Monday, December 15, 2008

I'll observe with a pitiful eye / And humbly ask for forgiveness

It’s not often I’m ashamed of my homeland but it does happen. And never more so than this morning when I opened the RSS feed of The Jakarta Post.

It’s rare to find any mention of NZ in this part of the world. Unlike Australia or the other nations of Asia, it doesn’t really figure in the Indonesian, or to be honest, South East Asian, consciousness. The rugby never gets a mention, and I doubt if most Indonesians could name a New Zealander is they had to (with perhaps the possible exception of Helen Clark who did have a fairly positive image the small number that knew of her).

So when the words “New Zealand” turn up, they rather jump out of the page, thus I clicked on the link.

This is what popped up:

Indonesia has accused New Zealand of giving “too few” while requesting “too many” special facilities that may harm certain Indonesian industries and cause massive job losses, during an ongoing free trade negotiation that could end in a deadlock.

The negotiation is part of an auxiliary deal under the planned free trade agreement (FTA) between 10-member ASEAN and Australia and New Zealand, agreed upon on Aug. 28, and which will be officially signed by the end of the year.

Sondang Anggraini, the Trade Ministry’s director for ASEAN, East Asia, Australia and the Pacific, and North and South America, argued New Zealand’s request was too much to tolerate and only offered “peanut” facilities in exchange.

She said New Zealand had asked Indonesia to entirely eliminate import duties imposed on beef and dairy products, covered by 12 tariff lines by 2020, while in exchange offering only 10 doctoral scholarships.

Another offer is financial assistance for three years to improve the skills of Indonesians working in the dairy and beef industries, including veterinarians, Sondang said.

“But we dismiss their offers because scholarships are not among our priorities, and the amount of the financial assistance is so small that I’m ashamed to name the figure,” she told The Jakarta Post.

So, assuming the substance of the story is as reported, and I can find no evidence anywhere that it’s not, either in the form of a denial from NZ or an alternative version, the essence is that NZ offered the 4th largest nation in the world a few scholarships and a bit of assistance in return for wiping 100% of their import duties on a very substantial trade.

What, did they offer a few blankets, muskets and beads as well? Because that’s the level this seems to come from.

All I can think is that this is a case of an incoming government either not doing it’s homework or an arrogance compounded by an ignorance that has led to some sort of feeling of civilized superiority on the part of a 'developed' nation.

I’m a New Zealander and will always be proudly one but a few home truths should do no harm. Firstly, Indonesia is a G20 nation, with the 20th largest economy in the world and rising, NZ is around fifty on that list. It may have it’s governmental issues (which is the one major thing, on so many levels, holding it back), but as a nation and a culture it dwarfs so much of the world in so many ways. It has a history going back thousands of years (and archeology to prove it) and that history includes both written and oral philosophies that we should, in New Zealand, look at with some awe. It has a vast, very sophisticated academia which goes back far beyond the history of my small, young nation and has a core of active thinkers, writers and scientists who exist in a world dominated by Bahasa Indonesia, that we, in NZ, can’t begin to penetrate. It has huge mega cities that are more sophisticated in design, cuisine, culture, fashion, architecture and technology than anything found in NZ. It’s capital has a population some 5 times that of NZ as a whole, with 80 (80!) malls, most of which make Auckland’s Sylvia Park look like the Farmers’ Market in some backwater country town.

Outside Jakarta there are massive hi-tech industries that match any in the world and the nation is making noises now about a space industry.

And we offer them ten scholarships and a few other bits and bobs.

I don’t know if this dates from the previous government or if it’s a product of the new grey shoed idealogues from a past age now ruling the roost in Wellington, but either way it’s appalling and as a New Zealander I’m shamed.

Just a question, considering the US$971m trade between Indonesia and NZ in the first 8 months of this year..when will John Key visit? Kevin Rudd has been here 3 times this year.