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A friend in need is a friend indeed: Celebrating Indonesia’s Independence Day

Former Ambassador to Indonesia Kim Chang-beom (Embassy of Indonesia in Seoul)
Former Ambassador to Indonesia Kim Chang-beom (Embassy of Indonesia in Seoul)
August is a festive month for both Korean and Indonesian people, as both countries celebrate their independence in August. The Republic of Indonesia commemorates the Aug. 17, 1945 as its Independence Day, only two days after the Independence Day of the Republic of Korea. Both countries share similar historic backgrounds from the very beginning of nation-building. They are now deepening their ties not only as key economic partners but also as like-minded countries.

I would like to convey my warmest congratulations to Indonesian friends on the 76th Independence Day of the Republic of Indonesia. This anniversary is a milestone following the Indonesian people’s long struggle for independence.

While I was serving as Korean Ambassador to Indonesia from 2018 through 2020, every Aug. 17 I have witnessed nationwide festivities and excitement celebrating Independence Day from the Merdeka Palace in Jakarta to remote villages. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Indonesian people are unable to hold celebrations this year like they used to enjoy in previous years. However, I believe the spirit to commemorate this historical day remains the same. Especially, the spirit to overcome the current unprecedented challenge arising out of the pandemic is stronger and higher than ever.

Indonesian people’s concerted efforts in fight against COVID-19 is well characterized by “Gotong Royong,” a popular Javanese expression, which literally translates as “mutual assistance.” The idea of Gotong Royong is the sharing of burdens between the members of community. Gotong Royong is depicted as a salient feature of “Indonesian national culture.” It means working together, helping each other.

Like personal relations, the true test of a bilateral relationship between states is revealed in times of crisis. In this sense, this spirit of “Gotong Royong” unites both Indonesia and South Korea in a tighter way in their responses to tackle the current pandemic. South Korea is at the forefront of assisting Indonesia’s struggle in the midst of COVID-19 surge in Indonesia. Their collaboration well illustrates the value of an old saying, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.”

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong visited Jakarta and met Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi on June 25. The two ministers agreed to expand cooperation in such fields as disease prevention and control, vaccination, and public health, in order to overcome the COVID-19 crisis together. South Korea decided to provide $400 million worth of COVID-19 test kits and other relief supplies this year, as it did in 2020.

Foreign Minister Chung further explained that the Korean government would provide $100 million to the COVAX AMC this year, as well as another $100 million in 2022, and hoped that this would help expand COVID-19 vaccine distribution across the ASEAN member states including Indonesia.

On the occasion of the foreign ministers’ meeting, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the ministry of national development planning of the Republic of Indonesia (BAPPENAS) signed the minutes of understanding on inclusive program for COVID-19 response. Both governments also continue working together for the effective operation of a fast track procedure, known as the Indonesia-ROK Travel Corridor Arrangement, which has contributed to the development of mutually beneficial economic relations by ensuring the essential movement of people including business travel since Aug. 17, 2020.

Such close partnership is not confined to government-to-government cooperation. The Korean business community is working with the Indonesian people in helping to fight the further spread of COVID-19. One notable example is Hyundai Motor Group, which is constructing its first complete auto manufacturing plant in Indonesia, scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

Hyundai Motor also has initiatives to support oxygen production and medical equipment supplies. Its auto plant started the construction of an oxygen production facility with a capacity of 500 tons per year by using part of its factory facilities.

In addition, Hyundai Motor has made other donations to Indonesia in the form of medical equipment, namely 20 ventilators, 30 oxygen concentrators, and 100 oxygen cylinders. Another Korean company, LX International, donated 60 oxygen medical supply systems or oxygen concentrators to the Indonesian government and to Korean nationals living there.

Collaboration in the development of COVID-19 vaccines is also underway between Genexine, Korea and Kalbe Farma, Indonesia. Daewoong Pharmaceutical, a leading Korean biopharma company, is cooperating with Indonesia’s Ministry of Health to develop therapeutic drugs.

The friendship and momentum that underpins our relationship is well demonstrated by such “Gotong Royong.” The outbreak of COVID-19 is testing global structures of cooperation. The challenges give rise to new forms and expressions of transnational solidarity. In their joint sharing of burdens, Indonesia and South Korea are showing to the rest of the world that no country can tackle this issue alone and we will come through this together.

I want to highlight even brighter prospects of our bilateral ties of cooperation in view of the increasing affection between the two peoples. Indonesia-Korea relations are already enjoying a special strategic partnership. There is no historic baggage and no source of tension between us. Both nations share common values such as democracy, market economy, rule of law and multilateralism. They are enjoying a lot in common in tastes and inclinations for culture, art and entertainment. That is why people are feeling closer to each other.

I am confident our special strategic partnership will help us move together to overcome the health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as we have come to one another’s aid in the face of the current challenges, so too will we stand together to rebuild and recover. I once again join the people of Indonesia on celebrating the Independence Day, looking to the future with hope.

Kim Chang-beom served as Korean Ambassador to Indonesia from January 2018 through July 2020. He contributed this column for The Korea Herald. -- Ed.

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