US President George Bush’s coming visit to Indonesia is peppered with strong opposition voices and threats of terrorism, heightening security concerns within the domestic polity.
As part of President Bush’s eight-day visit beginning November 14 to Singapore and Vietnam, where he would attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum summit, he is also scheduled to visit Indonesia (Bogor, West Java) on November 20.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told reporters on November 10 that Indonesian people are free to demonstrate during President Bush’s visit: ‘I understand there are differing views regarding President Bush's visit to Indonesia ... but this should be seen as a part of the openness and democracy in our country.’
Elsewhere, Minister Wirajuda cautioned Indonesians not to regard ‘Bush`s planned visit emotionally but view it in a wider context because the US president will come to Indonesia as a state guest who should be respected’. He also added that the visit would have a positive meaning for Indonesia because the agenda of the Bush-Yudhoyono meeting would possibly yield ‘direct benefits for our people's welfare such as education, health and disaster relief', as well as investment opportunities in the areas of biodiesel development and information technology.
The White House said that President Bush’s Southeast Asia visit will push for ‘joint efforts to battle terrorism and tear down trade barriers, and highlight the freedom agenda’, as well as ‘enable Mr Bush to forge partnerships with the region to tackle the serious challenges of…transnational health issues, including avian influenza…’ Minister Wirajuda however revealed that terrorism would not feature heavily on the agenda, since cooperation between the two countries in that area has been progressing smoothly.
In another instance, Indonesian Ambassador to the United States Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat reassured that there should not be a significant change in bilateral ties between the two countries following the Democrat Party’s new domination in the US parliament. ‘If there is such a change in the future, we (as the Indonesians) will accept it as an opportunity to build a better cooperation,’ he added.
President Bush’s war policies in Afghanistan and Iraq are rated by many Indonesians as having placed unfair targets on Muslims. Bearing testament to that opinion is the scene of hundreds of protestors – including members of the militant group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia – rallying in Bogor on November 11, as well as a bomb blast – possibly linked to Bush’s visit – in an American fast-food outlet in East Jakarta.
The blast did not incur injuries apart from the suspect involved, identified as Muhammad Nuh, 36, who is known by his neighbours as a quiet electronics repairman. Police spokesman Sr. Comr. I Ketut Untung Yoga Ana said on November 12 that the explosion was not intended to be a suicide bombing, as the explosives were not strapped to Nuh’s body. But a police search of Nuh’s house found two more home-made bombs. At present, the authorities cannot confirm whether the blast was linked to Mr Bush's visit or to the protest rally.
In response to the blast, cities in the region such as Cilegon in Banten as well as Bali, have beefed up their security. The US embassy in Indonesia also issued a warning to American citizens residing in the country to stay vigilant and avoid protest areas, as demonstrations may ‘turn confrontational and escalate into violence’.
Indonesia welcomes demonstrations during Bush visit (AP/The Straits Times, 10 November 2006)
Bush to push counter-terrorism, trade on S-E Asian trip (AFP/The Straits Times, 10 November 2006)
Democrat party come to power, but Indonesia-US relations remain undisturbed (Antara, 11 November 2006)
Police find more devices in Indonesian restaurant bomber's home (AFP/Channel News Asia, 12 November 2006)
Hundreds rally against Bush visit to Indonesia (The Straits Times, 12 November 2006)
E. Jakarta mall blast injures one (The Jakarta Post, 12 November 2006)
Indonesian people should respect Bush as state guest: FM (Antara, 12 November 2006)
Regions beef up security after E. Jakarta bombing (The Jakarta Post, 13 November 2006)
US warns of protests during Bush Indonesia visit (Antara, 13 November 2006)