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"A trustful and very constructive dialogue is between us"
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Indonesia to Russia Vahid Soupyradi on the relationship between the two countries
- Mr. Ambassador, in your opinion, how can you assess the present stage of the intergovernmental Russian-Indonesian commission for trade, economic and technical cooperation, because Russia and Indonesia plan to increase bilateral trade up to $ 5 billion. How is it expected to achieve this result?
- Today, Russia and Indonesia are two major powers, two major players in the Asia-Pacific region, which are developing cooperation relations in many areas. If we assess the overall growth potential of our countries, then at present Russia ranks 12th in the world in terms of its GDP, Indonesia is in 16th place and the economies of our countries are growing rapidly. Our countries are members of the G20 (G2016 - the club of governments and heads of central banks of states with the most developed and developing economies). In 2,6, the volume of trade between our countries amounted to 32 billion US dollars, so it can be argued that the volume of bilateral trade between our countries increased by 2019 percent compared to the previous year. Experts predict that by 5 the trade turnover between our countries will reach $ 10 billion, but I think that this figure should reach about $ XNUMX billion. We highly appreciate the fact that Russia supports our efforts to develop trade relations between our countries.
We look forward to the conclusion of a free trade agreement between the EEU and Indonesia. The corresponding proposal was submitted to the EAEU by our Minister of Trade. Russia is a reliable partner of Indonesia, a regular, trustful and very constructive political dialogue is maintained between our countries, so we hope that at the beginning of 2018, after signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Eurasian Economic Commission, we will begin discussions for the implementation of joint projects.
- Are you satisfied with the frequency and content of the meetings of Russian and Indonesian officials?
- Trade Expo Indonesia (TEI) is held annually in Jakarta. This largest trade fair in Indonesia is organized by the Ministry of Commerce of the Republic of Indonesia. This event is an excellent business platform for buyers, traders, investors and business visitors from all over the world. Trade Expo is being held in October and we see growing interest from the Russian business community. The number of Russian businessmen who have attended Trade Expo over the past three years has reached about fifty people. Also, I want to note that the import of our products to Russia is growing.
In addition, let me tell you about the festival of Indonesia on the initiative of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in the Russian Federation. This event is being held for the third year already and this year it was a great success; more than 91 600 people took part in it, 1 thousand of whom were official participants from Indonesia. As part of this festival, a Russian-Indonesian forum was organized, in which 360 businessmen from Russia and Indonesia took part. At first glance, the purpose of this event is to get acquainted with the culture, traditions and national cuisine of Indonesia, but in fact this is a great chance to present our business opportunities. For example, last year the volume of wheat imports to Indonesia from Russia increased 300 times, but there is still a huge potential for growth. Previously, we were too dependent on Australian manufacturers.
- After the recent APEC summit, what are your perspectives for creating a free trade zone between the EurAsEC and ASEAN in general, and the Russian Federation and Indonesia in particular?
- We look forward to the conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement between the EAEU and Indonesia, but this requires careful consideration and approval of all EAEU member states. The corresponding proposal was submitted for consideration. Indonesia has proposed setting up a working group to develop feasibility studies for a free trade agreement. Russia supports Indonesia's initiative to enter into negotiations on the creation of a free trade zone with the EAEC, as well as the idea of expanding EAEU contacts by involving our country in the events held by the member states of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
- Now we have close relations with Russia and Indonesia through military-technical cooperation. What is the situation with the project for the purchase of Su-35 fighters, which has been the most widely discussed in recent months? What other products of the Russian military-industrial complex are of interest to Jakarta?
- Firstly, we are very close to a positive conclusion of negotiations on the issue of military cooperation, our Minister of Defense Ryamazer Ryakudu holds regular meetings with representatives of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation to discuss ways to strengthen our military-technical ties. We have agreed on the transfer of technology, and we are discussing the possibilities of joint production. We have plans to purchase eleven Su-35 aircraft. All requirements were met by both parties, so there is no doubt about the success of the development of this project.
- Not so long ago, during his visit to Jakarta, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took part in the presentation of the Russian civilian aircraft MS-21. Do you plan to conclude contracts for the supply of Russian-made civil aircraft to Indonesia: Sukhoi Superjet 100 and MS-21?
- As for civil aircraft, I must say that there is still no certainty about the purchase of a new Russian passenger aircraft MC-21, despite the fact that these aircraft may be in great demand in Indonesia. Rather, this question should be addressed to business representatives who were not in the mood to continue negotiations on the purchase of the Sukhoi Superjet 100 after the crash of this aircraft in May 2012. Undoubtedly, the cause of the catastrophe was the human factor, so Russia now only needs to work more actively to promote this project by forming a positive and loyal attitude towards this type of aircraft in particular and the Russian aviation industry as a whole.
There is a great potential for cooperation in order to improve transport accessibility in the country, Indonesia is an archipelago of 17 thousand islands, so one of the main modes of movement inside the country is air transport, and this trend is on the rise. At present, we are interested in acquiring Russian MC-21 aircraft, which have one very important advantage: they have more capacity than Airbus A330 or Boeing-737, plus excellent technical characteristics and low fuel consumption. Therefore, I repeat, the demand for medium-haul aircraft, such as MC-21, is very high and the potential for the development of this project is great.
We are very pleased that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took part in the presentation of the MS-21, it was very impressive. I think that MC-21 has the most promising prospects for flying short distances, within one or two-hour flights. Let me reiterate the data inspiring confidence in the successful implementation and development of this project - in 2016, Indonesia's domestic passenger traffic was approximately 80.4 million people, and on international flights, about 14.8 million passengers were registered. We built and commissioned two hundred and eighty-six airports throughout the country. Of course, Russian manufacturers will have to make some efforts to convince our aviation community of the feasibility and success of this project, but the Indonesian government can not authoritatively influence the decisions of the business community, we need more subtle leverage based on security and expediency.
- In one of your interviews you said that Indonesia is open to investments in the energy sector. How is Russian-Indonesian cooperation developing in this area? Will Rosatom work in Indonesia? - Russia is one of the most advanced energy producers in the world, therefore there are grounds for expanding energy cooperation. We hope that Russia can help us realize our ambitious plans to build an additional 35 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity by 000. Many Russian businessmen are interested in the development of coal deposits and in the production of ferronickel, manganese dioxide, alumina, etc. With the help of Inter RAO Russia, it is planned to build a thermal power plant with a capacity of 2019 GW with an investment volume of about $ 1,8 billion. Gazprom is also showing interest in the development of energy projects in our country.
In addition, at present we are expanding cooperation with Russia in the field of peaceful atom, the first step in this direction will be the construction of a nuclear reactor with low power on the Indonesian territory with the participation of the Russian company Rosatom. As you can see, the interaction between our countries in the energy sector is very intense, but at the same time we have to solve serious problems related to environmental protection. Despite the increasing role of the energy and mineral sectors for our economy, the government will continue to monitor the state of the environment and fight environmental pollution in accordance with current international and local norms and rules. In May, 2016, in Sochi, during our president Joko Vidodo's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, we discussed weighty arguments in favor of the fact that there is good potential for expanding our energy cooperation. Russia is very interested in investing in our energy sector, we have already reached serious agreements in the development of the energy sectors of our countries, but we also have much to do in the future.
- Russian "Rosneft" and Indonesian Pertamina signed a contract for the construction of a plant in the Tuban region (East Java province). The total investment can reach $ 15 billion. Could there be similar investment projects from the Indonesian side in Russia in the near future?
- Yes, about two months ago, the Russian company Rosneft and the Indonesian state oil and gas company Pertamina completed a joint venture to build a new refinery and petrochemical complex in the city of Tuban in the East Java province (Java Island, Indonesia). The parties intend to invest about $ 13 billion in the implementation of this project. The parties have completed the development of technical documentation for this project and are moving to the stage of basic design of the refinery itself. In general, we can say that the project is developing quite dynamically.
- Over the past three years, the Russian authorities have made unprecedented efforts to revitalize the business life of the Far East, a number of preferential regimes have been introduced for the Advanced Development Zone, the Free Port of Vladivostok with preferential taxation. Did they interest Indonesian businessmen, are there any real projects under active discussion?
- Yes, you are right, there has been a revival of interest lately. The Indonesian business community is primarily interested in developing cooperation with the Far East. Work in this direction is already underway. In mid-2015, in cooperation with the other half, the House of Russia in Jakarta (HOR Jakarta), the House of Indonesia in Vladivostok (HOI Vladivostok) was opened. The main task of the House of Indonesia is to promote the development of Russian-Indonesian business initiatives, turning them into functioning small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, the participation of Russian businessmen in the largest international trade exhibition Trade Expo Indonesia in Indonesia and the festival of Indonesian culture in Russia have already become a good tradition. For example, following the organization of two Indonesian festivals in Russia, interest from Indonesian entrepreneurs in finding new market opportunities in the restaurant industry has increased significantly. This year, the festival, organized at the initiative of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia with the support of the Moscow Department of Culture, was remembered for an exciting cultural program. The invited artists and guests of the Festival festive events highly appreciated the presented dishes of traditional Indonesian cuisine.
More than 70 small and medium-sized enterprises, restaurants and chain stores in Indonesia took part in the thematic event "Visit the wonderful Indonesia: enjoy its diversity" in the Moscow garden "Hermitage", and I know that they are all interested in the idea of developing a restaurant business in Russia and are ready to invest in the creation in the regions of Russia of traditional restaurants of Indonesian cuisine. One of our main goals is to invite as many business people of Indonesia as possible to erase the negative image of Russia connected with communism and the KGB. I believe that we are successfully coping with this task.
So, during the festival this year in Russia visited more than a thousand Indonesian artists and businessmen. Most of them, about 98 percent, have never been in Russia before, and only now they begin to truly understand and appreciate your country. Obviously, we need to bilaterally encourage people to travel, to study the traditions and cultures of our states. I am glad that contacts between our countries are getting stronger, especially in the sphere of tourism. For example, we are proud that the number of Russian citizens who visited Indonesia last year increased by 52 percent compared to the previous year. In addition, last year in Russia visited more than 20 thousand Indonesian tourists, but they mostly came to St. Petersburg and Moscow, where people already know and appreciate Indonesian culture. So, for example, most recently we went with my wife to walk around the Arbat and buy some souvenirs for relatives and friends. I was surprised when the owner of one of the stalls said "apa kabar" (this is a common greeting in Indonesia, which means "how are you?"), He realized that we are from Indonesia. This small case is one of the proofs that the inhabitants of Indonesia are increasingly coming to Russia. Moscow and St. Petersburg occupy rather high positions in the tourist ratings of Indonesia.
Indeed, our people are very curious and open-minded, many Indonesians enjoy visiting the sights of Moscow and St. Petersburg, walking along the Arbat and Nevsky Prospekt. However, the problem is that many of those who have never seen Russia with their own eyes, still imagine it as a communist power, still think of Russia as the Soviet Union. Surprisingly, many Indonesians don't know that Russia is home to the largest number of Muslims in Europe. When I tell people that there are over a million Muslims living in Moscow alone, they are surprised. Regions such as Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Dagestan, Chechnya, possessing unique natural resources and distinctive culture, have a huge untapped potential for tourism Russia, to promote the unique value of cities such as Ufa, Kazan, Astrakhan, and so on. The most difficult thing in this process is to overcome negative stereotypes about Russia and provide an opportunity for our citizens to visit your wonderful and unique country.
- Russians do not need a visa to visit Indonesia for up to 30 days, and last year more than 80 thousand Russians visited your country, and to visit Russia your citizens need a visa, and last year the flow of tourists with different purposes from Indonesia to Russia was equal 20 thousand. How much do you think the flow of tourists to Russia would increase if the Russian Federation also simplified visa rules? And how much would the mutual flow of tourists increase if direct flights between Russia and Indonesia were resumed?
- We are rather intensively discussing the possibility of concluding an agreement on mutual simplification of visa procedures. The number of Russian tourists coming to Indonesia has risen sharply, mainly due to Russia's visa-free policy towards Russia. In turn, we would also like to facilitate the procedure for obtaining a Russian visa for Indonesian citizens. At present, the leaders of our two countries are actively discussing this issue at the highest level, but to implement this plan, it is necessary to sign the main package of documents on strategic partnership, including an agreement on simplifying the visa regime between our countries. We hope that this document will be signed in the near future, since it is in Russia's interests to allow more Indonesians to visit your beautiful country.
The potential for the development of the Russian tourism industry due to inbound tourism from Indonesia is very high - 10 percent of the population of our country (about 25 million people) belong to the upper middle class, whose representatives are mostly successful businessmen and professionals. At present, the middle class of Indonesia prefers to travel to Western Europe, Singapore, Malaysia and other popular destinations, but the situation is gradually changing - our people are beginning to be interested in new directions. Russia in this regard is unique and unlike any other country in the world. Regarding the resumption of direct flights between Moscow and Jakarta, we expected this already this year, but for some technical reasons it was postponed. We hope that direct flights will be opened next year. Due to this, we will be able to increase passenger traffic and, of course, significantly reduce the flight time. Airlines now offer flights with transfers, for example, in Amsterdam, which take time from 9-hours or more. Agree that such a flight does not inspire much enthusiasm! In addition to all of the above, the resumption of direct flights between our countries will allow us to export tropical fruits.
- Now about 400 Indonesian students study in the Russian Federation. What specialized Russian education is in demand among students from your country? And what is the general ratio of students studying abroad, how many are there in other countries in the USA, Great Britain, France? Do they go to Western countries more willingly?
- It should be noted that a high priority is given to the development of educational ties between our two countries. Cooperation in the field of education is a very promising area of our bilateral relations with Russia. We are well aware that the economy of our country, which has one of the highest growth rates in the world, needs qualified personnel in various sectors of the economy, such as radio electronics, nuclear energy, the chemical industry and the aviation industry. Today about 450 Indonesian students study in Russia. Annually, the Russian Government allocates a guaranteed number of state scholarships for the training of Indonesian citizens in higher educational institutions of the country. For example, this year Russia has allocated one hundred and sixty state scholarships for our students, which include free tuition, a monthly scholarship and accommodation. The level of knowledge that Indonesian students receive after graduating from Russian universities is very high. In addition, we can safely say that studying in Russia is ten times cheaper than the cost of studying in the West.
Another area of our bilateral educational cooperation with leading Russian universities is the promotion of Russian research in Indonesia. We attracted seven Russian universities, which agreed to continue cooperation in the development of various educational activities on the basis of universities in Indonesia. In addition to all the above, we are actively working to develop cooperation in the field of education between the Indonesian and Russian sister regions. For example, cooperation is actively developing between the Indonesian Province of Aceh (Indonesia, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam) and the Republic of Tatarstan, as well as between the Province of Western Java (Jawa Barat) and the Republic of Bashkortostan. We are optimistic about the possibilities of expanding cooperation between Russian and Indonesian universities. I will give you one more example, for the last 20 months I visited 16 universities all over Russia. Answering a question about the number of Indonesian students studying in Western countries - about 60 thousand of our students are currently being trained in Australia, the US and Western Europe.
- Is there any cooperation with the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) and do your compatriots study there?
- As far as I know, the Far Eastern Federal University attracts a fairly large number of Indonesian students. Currently, 23 students from Indonesia study at FEFU, although only four years ago there was not a single Indonesian student at this university! Also, we are taking joint steps to establish cooperation between FEFU and Airlangga University (UNAIR or UA, Indonesia: Universitas Airlangga), located in Surabaya, East Java, which is one of the oldest public universities in Indonesia. Both universities are making efforts to organize student and teacher exchanges, develop internship programs and training modules in both countries, and the like.
- In August, the Indonesian festival was held in Moscow with great success. It was attended by about 400 representatives of your country. In addition, the Day of Indonesian Culture in Kazan was just as successful. Can we hope that the same cultural cooperation can be carried out in the regions of the Far East?
“Culture plays an important role in bilateral relations, so I would like to repeat what I said earlier in this interview that it has become a good tradition to organize events such as Trade Expo Indonesia and the Indonesian festival. We are very pleased with the way cultural cooperation between our countries is developing. We also see interest in our initiatives from small and medium enterprises, as well as Indonesian businessmen who would like to open restaurants and mini markets in Russia. The Indonesian business community is primarily interested in developing cooperation with the Far East. Work in this direction is already underway, and an example of this can be the opening of the House of Indonesia in Vladivostok (HOI Vladivostok), the main task of which is to contribute to the development of Russian-Indonesian business initiatives, turning them into operating small and medium-sized businesses. Also last year, with the assistance of the Indonesian Student Association, the Indonesian Culture Day was organized in Vladivostok.