Indonesia and Norway: The Forgotten Relationship

While Indonesia's relations with Scandinavian countries have not received sufficient attention, our short visit to Norway recently showed that the ties between the two countries have witnessed a series of quite, yet important, developments in the recent years.

While Indonesia's relations with Scandinavian countries have not received sufficient attention, our short visit to Norway recently showed that the ties between the two countries have witnessed a series of quite, yet important, developments in the recent years.

Historically, the ties between Indonesia and Norway can be dated back even before the Indonesian independence. As early as 1906, a Norwegian honorary consulate general was established in Jakarta. The government in Oslo was also among the first countries to recognise Indonesian sovereignty, followed immediately with the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1950.

Since then, the relationship between Jakarta and Oslo has expanded beyond political and diplomatic domains. In terms of economic partnership, it is reported that the trade volume stood at US$450 million in 2014, a 22% increase from the previous years. As for investments, Norway is one of the biggest investors to Indonesia with US$3,2 million amount of investments. According to the data from the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta, there are about 35 Norwegian firms operating in different sectors in Indonesia, including oil and gas, renewable energy, maritime, and fishing.

Seeing great prospects in Indonesia, the government in Oslo decided to open a trade office, commonly known as Innovation Norway, in 2009. The office seeks to promote investment initiatives and advantage between the two countries by identifying opportunities and to open up new prospects with regard to mutual advantage. Another initiative came in the form of an MoU on the Establishment of Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation, which was signed in 2013.

Interestingly, environmental cooperation has been the axis around which Jakarta-Oslo relationship revolves. In May 2010, Indonesia and Norway signed an agreement on the reduction of greenhouse emission from burned forests or REDD+. Under the agreement, the Norwegian government granted $1 million for Indonesia to reduce carbon emission caused by deforestation. Indonesia is an important country for REDD. It has one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world and, as a consequence of this deforestation, especially the destruction of peatswamp forests, the country is the world's third highest emitter of carbon dioxide. An important aspect of the deal involved establishing a 'degraded lands database' and the establishment of funds devoted to finalizing Indonesia's climate and forest strategy, building and institutionalizing capacity to monitor, report and verify reduced emissions, and putting in place enabling policies and institutional reforms.

In late 2012, the government in Oslo also sent a delegation to discuss a number of environmental issues including sustainability and forest protection. A year later, Norway, in collaboration with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), worked in a project to protect Jayapura's Cyclops Mountains. Funded by the Norwegian Embassy, the project concentrates on law enforcement. It uses specialized training, performance standards, and the development of a coordination network to build the capacity of law enforcement agencies and judicial officers. It is reported that the project successfully assisted the local government to finalise its "Local Regulations of Jayapura District on Protection and Management of Cyclops" and established a government budget-funded civilian task force to protect the Cyclops Conservation Area.

The most recent development was an agreement signed in November last year to support Jakarta's green economic development program. According to the deal, Norway will contribute in the form of a grant of US$19 million to finance several projects including investment in the sectors of renewable energy, special economic zone, forestry and utilization of other lands. More recently, the government in Oslo also pledged to offer $50 million in the development of peat restoration facility in Indonesia.

In the fishery sector, the two countries seem to acknowledge the benefits of cooperation. For Indonesia, Norway is an important partner in eradicating illegal fishing in the country. As one of the world's largest archipelagos, Indonesia is willing to reap the potential wealth of the surrounding sea. In 2009, the two countries signed an agreement in which the Indonesian-Norway Fisheries and Aquaculture Cooperation Committee was established. Both governments also pledged to expand their ties into the field of education and trainings, as well as the establishment of aquaculture that is linked to the National Aquatic Health Laboratory, and Joint Fisheries Management. At the same time, Oslo offered US$1 million aid to development a renewable energy park in Yogyakarta. In her visit to Oslo in August last year, Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti signed an agreement to strengthen ties in fishing industry. Both governments agreed to boost fisheries trade and discussed the establishment of a bilateral consultation forum of fishery.

Undeniably, energy cooperation is also on rise. During the visit of Norway's Prime Minister in late 2015, Jakarta and Oslo also agreed to cooperate on deep sea technology for oil and natural gas exploration. For Indonesia, this is important as most of its petroleum and gas reserves are situated in deep sea in the eastern part of the country. To complement this, Indonesia's state oil company PT Pertamina planned to establish a strong partnership with Statoi, a Norwegian petroleum firm. As for hydroelectric power, a plan has been made to jointly develop hydroelectric power plants in Sumba Island, Nusa Tenggara Timur.

Even though not as widely reported, Jakarta and Oslo maintain strong cultural and educational links with each other. In October 2015, for instance, the Indonesian Embassy in Oslo, together with other ASEAN representatives in the country, organised ASEAN Cultural Night in which ASEAN culture and traditional foods were showcased. Previously, Daemeter, a project by the Indonesian Embassy in Oslo, urged a number of organisations including Borneo Chic, Perkumpulan Indonesia Berseru, Indonesia Business Council for Sustainable Development (IBCSD), to participate in Reidselivsmessen 2014, the biggest travel and tourism exhibition in Norway.

There is also an increase of people-to-people exchanges between Jakarta and Oslo. There is a considerable growth of Indonesian tourists visiting Norway, and there is a significant number of Norwegians visiting Indonesia.

Cooperation on education is also maintained. This was evidenced by the signing of MoU between the Norwegian Technological University and Institut Teknologi Bandung. Other universities such as UGM and Ibn Sina Academy of Nursing have also reportedly established partnership with universities in Norway. There was also a plan to establish a cooperation between Indonesian Defence University and Norwegian institutions in the fields of peace keeping and military trainings. What is remarkable is that the two countries also pledged to establish a partnership in the spheres of interfaith dialogue and human rights. While stimulating cooperation is not a simple process, stronger bonds in education and culture might strengthen the ties between the two countries.

Complementary links continue between Indonesia and Norway through different channels. Both governments have maintained ties in global stage, such as in the Seven Nations Initiative (7NI) in the field of nuclear non-proliferation, Millennium Development Goals (MDFs), health, as well as foreign policy. Moreover, the two have also agreed to continue the joint cooperation with Afghanistan within the framework of South-South and triangular cooperation. In the past years, both governments have jointly implemented a number of triangular cooperation projects with Afghanistan in sectors of law enforcement, women empowerment, and education. In 2014, for example, 25 policewomen and 12 teachers from Afghanistan received training in community policing in Jakarta and Bandung.

Looking ahead, Indonesia-Norway relationship will continue to expand. Indonesia provides Norway not only a gateway to large investment opportunities, but also offers a way to expand to the wider ASEAN region.

On the other hand, Norway's top-notch technologies are important to Indonesia's energy and fishing industries. Oslo could also become an access to untapped consumer markets and possibly a hub for expansion in the wider Europe. At the same time, Norway's ventures are waited as Indonesia is currently in need of billions of dollars in investment to revamp its economy and bring down employment.

This piece is co-authored with Muhammad Beni Saputra, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester.

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