Wednesday, November 10, 2010

President Obama's visit to Indonesia and U.S.-Indonesian S&T Cooperaton

It seems to me that President Obama's visit to Indonesia reflects his view of the priorities in U.S. foreign policy. 
  • Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country, one on which Obama is very popular and highly respected, giving him an ideal platform for a major foreign policy speech on U.S. relations with the Islamic world and indeed Indonesia is a key nation in the evolving U.S. policy with respect to that world.
  • Indonesia has had its own problems with terrorism and is an ally in the war against Al Qaeda.
  • U.S. economic health requires exporting more to improve our balance of payments. As Asia represents the most important emerging market for U.S. exports, Indonesia is likely to be an important part of that market. 
  • Indonesia is an important country for U.S. international energy policy due to its petroleum resources, and an interesting place for the exploration of geothermal energy technology. 
  • The environmental problems that confront Indonesia make it a laboratory for global environmental solutions. 
  • It is also a country that engages U.S. humanitarian assistance. 

The emphasis on scientific, technological and educational cooperation, welcome as it is, should be seen in light of these larger interests.

The U.S. program of scientific, technological and education cooperation with Indonesia has been evolving "with all deliberate speed". Remember that putting flesh on the bones of such an initiative involves exploration of opportunities and constraints, development of project proposals and obtaining funds. For government agencies, the funding requires not only executive branch action but legislative approval and the delays of the legislative budget cycle. The government cooperation program is moving forward since the science and technology agreement was signed last year. It includes not only efforts funded by U.S. bilateral foreign assistance agencies (USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the State Department) but also cooperative activities from such "domestic" agencies as the National Institutes of Health and NASA. Especially important will be the $165 million higher education cooperation program to be implemented over the next five years. 

Check out the following

I suspect that the most important elements in President Obama's initiatives in terms of strengthening Indonesian technological capacity will not be recognized as such by most people. President Obama said that he want the United States, which is now Indonesia's third most important trading partner, to become its most important source of foreign direct investment and foreign trade. U.S. investments in Indonesia should be a rich source of technology as the investing firms will also be transferring technology and financing technological innovation. Trade will be presumably emphasize U.S. high technology exports which will bring technologies to Indonesia that it wants and needs. while providing incentives for Indonesian exporters to ramp up their technology to increase their international competitiveness.

It should be recognized that there is a long history of scientific, technological and educational cooperation between Indonesia and the United States. A quarter of a century I helped organize a visit to the United States by Indonesia's Minister of Science and Technology and 17 others drawn from the scientific and technological leadership of all the government agencies. They stayed in the United States for a month meeting with counterparts in government and the private sector.

Still, the cooperation is very unequal. The new UNESCO World Science Report points out that the United States represents 23.1 percent of global gross expenditure on research and development while Indonesia represents on 0.04 percent of global GERD. It will take a long time for Indonesia to attain the scientific and technological capacity that its people need, but increased STEM cooperation with the United States will help in achieving that capacity.

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