In a speech to an audience of about 6,000 people at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Obama said Indonesia’s “extraordinary democratic transformation” and its religious tolerance stand as examples to other emerging economies.
“America has a stake in an Indonesia that is growing, with prosperity that is broadly shared among the Indonesian people,” Obama said, “because a rising middle class here means new markets for our goods, just as America is a market for yours.”
The president, 49, who lived in Jakarta from 1967 to 1971, greeted the audience with remarks in the Indonesian language, drawing cheers. He told them, “Indonesia bagian dari diri saya,” meaning Indonesia is part of me.
Obama arrived in Jakarta yesterday, the second stop on a four-country tour of Asia that began with India and has focused primarily on expanding trade in the region and boosting U.S. exports to create jobs at home. He left after the speech for Seoul, where the leaders of the Group of 20 nations are meeting.
In his address, Obama highlighted the coexistence of democracy and Islam in Indonesia as an example to other emerging economies.
“This is why Indonesia will play such an important part in the 21st century,” he said. “Gone are the days when seven or eight countries could come together to determine the direction of global markets.”
Emerging economies such as Indonesia will have a bigger voice and greater responsibility for guiding the world economy, he said.
At a state dinner in his honor last night, Obama praised President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia’s first directly elected president, as “a leader who has guided this nation through its journey into democracy.”
Obama also highlighted the advantages of democracy while he was in India, the first stop on his Asia tour. During a meeting with students at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai Nov. 7, he commented on the Nov. 2 congressional elections in the U.S., in which his party lost control of the House of Representatives and seats in the Senate.
“One of the wonderful things about democracy is that when the people are not happy it’s their right, obligation and duty to express their unhappiness, much to the regret sometimes of incumbents,” he said.
While in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and third-largest democracy, Obama sought to build on his efforts to reset relations with the Muslim world.
Earlier today the president and first lady Michelle Obama visited the Istiqlal Mosque, Southeast Asia’s largest, which was under construction when he lived in Jakarta.
“Its name and history also speak to what makes Indonesia great,” Obama said. “Istiqlal means independence, and its construction was in part a testament to the nation’s struggle for freedom.”
Obama, continuing the themes he laid out in a June 2009 speech at Cairo University, said he is making repairing U.S. relations with Muslims worldwide a priority.
He said that while progress has been made on issues at the root of tensions, “much more work remains to be done.”
The Muslim world, like the U.S., has an interest in battling extremism and in the success of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We have faced false starts and setbacks, but we have been persistent in our pursuit of peace,” Obama said in the text of his remarks. “Israelis and Palestinians restarted direct talks, but enormous obstacles remain. There should be no illusions that peace and security will come easy.”
“But let there be no doubt: America will spare no effort in working for the outcome that is just, and that is in the interest of all the parties involved: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” he said.
Obama’s strategy of reaching out to Muslims holds political risks for him. The U.S. president has had to defend himself against false rumors that he’s Muslim and today, many in the Muslim world are still looking for him to deliver on some of the promises in the Cairo speech.
A July 2010 Zogby International survey of six Arab nations showed that majorities of urban dwellers in Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates don’t believe that Obama met the expectations he set in his Cairo speech. Favorable opinions of the U.S. in those countries are down from the year before, though still higher than at the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, the survey found.
Likewise, the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted April and May of this year found that the opinion of the U.S. in Muslim countries has slipped since last year. In Egypt, 31 percent of Muslims expressed confidence in Obama, down from 41 percent last year and in Pakistan, a critical U.S. partner in the Afghanistan war, only 8 percent of Muslims expressed confidence in the U.S. president, down from 13 percent last year. In Indonesia, confidence in Obama slipped five points to 65 percent.
“There is so much that he did right in the Cairo speech in terms of the symbolism, in terms of the atmospherics in terms of the general direction that America should go,” said Stephen Grand, director of the Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World. “But it’s unfortunate that he hasn’t gotten much from the speech a year and a half later.”
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