Interview with Indonesian Ambassador to the UK: H. E. Rizal Sukma

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BritCham has undertaken two business UK roadshows a year for the last four years. It is the Chamber’s way to support the positive images of Indonesia overseas, to properly represent the trade and investment opportunities, and to showcase the excellent market access support BritCham provides to British SMEs.

On the most recent roadshow that took in 11 cities, I was invited to late afternoon tea at the new Indonesian Embassy in London.

Below are excerpts from my 70-minute conversation with the Indonesian Ambassador to the UK, H.E. Rizal Sukma.

 

Pak Rizal, this is your first posting as an Indonesian Ambassador. What were your expectations and how is reality living up to those expectations?

Actually, when President Jokowi expressed his wish for me to represent Indonesia in the UK, obviously I was flattered. But, it was made very clear to me that our president wanted me to accept a different set of KPIs, different from the traditional role of statesman. I knew I was to be a salesman for Indonesia. I needed to support the efforts of the Indonesian Investment Promotion Centre (IIPC, that’s BKPM overseas). I needed to be available to help open the doors that may help push a British company with its investment decision. Having the new embassy has helped greatly. We have the space and options to host gatherings and to take a higher profile. This is more productive than meeting in hotels and at offices. This has helped with the development of networks with British businesses that are happy to buy from Indonesia. And in line with our president’s wishes, I have kept my focus on the tangible issues of trade and investment and building on the very positive bilateral relationships that our two countries already enjoy.

 

We are extremely grateful to you for joining us on our visit to Edinburgh, Scotland. In the past, BritCham has travelled together with Bank Indonesia and the IIPC and that has proved very beneficial in promoting a unified position on Indonesia’s attractiveness. What were your observations of that visit?

Firstly, it was an honour to have been invited and thank you to Pak Ainsley Mann, your Chairman and Scottish Business Envoy, to the Scottish Chambers of Commerce and for the attendance of all the forum participants.

It was an excellent event for me for a number of reasons. It provided opportunity for both the UK businesses and for our team in the embassy to identify how we can be effective in working together. Secondly, it provided opportunity for networking away from the obvious big cities like London and Manchester. It is easy to lose sight of the devolved administrations of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but actually those countries have lots of talent and lots of innovation. I believe Scotland has a history of travelling to work and trade. So, it is a reminder of Indonesia in a way, meaning that not all the good contribution to the nation as a whole comes out of Jakarta and other big cities. All provinces can make their contribution.

 

Back in Scotland, the focus of that particular forum was education. We know you’re an academic and we also know that Indonesia recently took steps to open the education centre to more international influence. What are your views on this development?

The UK is now the most popular destination for many Indonesians who want to pursue higher education. What we need to do is to increase the progression between universities in Indonesia and the UK. There are numbers of venues already available for joint research and such; we also need to do more collaboration and exchange among lecturers, so UK professors can teach in Indonesian universities and vice versa. That’s the plan for now, but one important thing we would like to do is to engage and invite more international universities, especially from the UK, to open their campuses in Indonesia in collaboration. We all want to see education standards improve in Indonesia to a point whereby there isn’t a sense that better standards prevail in Singapore and Malaysia. Also, to a point whereby the system is outputting more capability for government and private sectors. So, all developments that can result in higher standards are to be supported.

 

As a Chamber of Commerce, sometimes we have difficulty in getting our UK counterparts to give the Indonesian proposition similar attention as China and India. Collectively with our colleagues around ASEAN, we often now promote as an ASEAN block. What are your thoughts about this approach and what are your views on the development of the AEC and Indonesia’s standing in it?

It makes sense to aggregate the countries of ASEAN. My understanding is that businesses invest and trade with multiple countries. For Indonesia, we would always like them to hub in Indonesia. I know that BritCham encourages this. As far as the AEC is concerned, I think it is too early to judge its effectiveness or benefit. It will succeed but needs more time. Politically, what I hear are the questions “why does Indonesia need to make sacrifices when it is 45 percent of the community”, and, “are we compromising because we are big?” That’s it from the reverse angle. But the challenge is that there isn’t really a model to follow. So, the AEC needs time to champion its own model. We are the only permanent member of the G20 (‘from the AEC’), so our political importance is assured.

 

For most of your tenure, the UK has been preoccupied with this little issue called Brexit. Has this presented any issues for you as an ambassador of a country that is geographically far removed from Europe?

In some ways yes. I understand that all ministries have their preoccupations. But I do need time with some of those ministries, even at junior level, to, for example, be heard, or to understand a position better or to get more and better access for our ministers and ministerial teams. But Brexit has caused the time of all to be at a premium. That has been my personal frustration. But, the flip side and consequence of all the uncertainty is that Indonesia is getting more attention from business and investors. If we can capitalise on this, then that is very positive.

 

(Note: The answers have been combined from various parts of an entire conversation and may not represent direct quotations in sequence.)

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