An interview with Dr. Peter Schoof, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Indonesia
1. Tell us about yourself; How did you began your diplomatic career and how has the journey been up to this point?
I am a graduate of Freiburg University, where I obtained a doctoral degree in History and Political Science. I started my career as an international civil servant in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), for whom I worked in Geneva (Switzerland) and in Islamabad (Pakistan) from 1983 to 1988. In 1988, I joined the Foreign Service of Germany and have since held positions in German embassies and missions in Damascus, Geneva as well as, twice, at the Permanent Representation of Germany to the European Union in Brussels. I served as Deputy Director for European Affairs at the German Foreign Office from 2011-2013 before I was appointed Ambassador to Greece in 2014. Afterwards, in 2017 I was entrusted with the position of Chief Inspector at the German Foreign Office and in September 2018 I assumed my current post as the German Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia, Timor-Leste and ASEAN.
2. Now that you are in Indonesia, what has been your impression of the country after your first six months? Was it as you expected?
I am very pleased to say that from the first day of my arrival I have been continuously overwhelmed by the warm-hearted and friendly welcome from the people of Jakarta and other regions of the archipelago I had the good fortune to visit, such as Papua, Sulawesi, Yogyakarta and Bali. In Bali, not only did I participate in important political events like the Bali Democracy Forum and the Meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, I also took intensive lessons in Bahasa Indonesia at a language school. I have to admit that after eight months I became more and more fascinated by Indonesia’s natural beauty and biodiversity. Every day, in Jakarta and during my travels, I can sense the peaceful coexistence of more than 260 million people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds as well as the breathtaking cultural heritage of this wonderful country. With respect to my daily business in Jakarta, to be honest, I did not expect that heavy traffic and air pollution in the capital can make planning a working day very tricky. However, I adapted quickly to the new challenges, also by using Transjakarta and the new MRT service as often as possible.
3. How would you evaluate the economic as well as the political situation in Indonesia? Would you like to comment on the election?
Let me begin with the economic situation. Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and the only G20 member in ASEAN. It shows an impressive and stable economic growth rate between 4% and 6% per year over the last 17 years as well as an increasing employment rate. Indonesia and its economy are blessed by an abundance of mineral and agricultural resources. The GDP per capita has more than doubled within the last 12 years and macroeconomic conditions are stable. This economic strength is also built on huge domestic consumption by a young and dynamic population and a fast-growing middle class. Through Indonesia 4.0, President Joko Widodo envisages transforming Indonesia into an export-oriented and industrialized country that offers competitive products on the world market. Coming from “old” Europe, I am also impressed by the broad use of social media, applications and online businesses in the daily lives of all members of society.
Of course, there are still areas which present challenges for the Indonesian economy, just to mention a few: development of a competitive downstream industry and an infrastructure which sets the base for the development of an export-oriented industry; improvement of educational and vocational skills of pupils, students and workers; creation of an investment-friendly environment with a clear and trustful regulatory framework; reduction of non-tariff trade barriers to improve investment conditions and the abolishment of bureaucratic burden to obtain work permits for foreign experts and workers.
With respect to the political situation, I am very impressed by the high level of political stability and democracy that this huge and diverse country has reached in a relatively short period of time. As previously mentioned, stable economic development and steady growth over the years have borne fruit and contributed to the political stability. Indonesia has just recently held its first simultaneous presidential and legislative election and I would like to congratulate Indonesian authorities and Indonesian voters for making this huge, one-day democratic event in the entire archipelago a success.
The success of Indonesia’s democracy does not only matter to Indonesia. The fact that the biggest member state of ASEAN and a G20 Country with 87% Muslim population has become a vibrant, pluralistic and powerful democracy proves wrong all those who pretend that Islam and democracy are not compatible. In the age of Islamic State and sectarian conflicts across the Middle East, this is an important message.
4. How would you describe the German-Indonesian relations, what are the main areas of cooperation? What can be done to improve the relationship?
It is obvious that Indonesia as the fourth most populous country in the world, the largest economy within ASEAN and a fellow G20 member is an important partner for Germany.
I am happy to state that German-Indonesian relations are broad, deep and forward-looking. More importantly, they are based on mutual trust. This also means that when we do have genuinely different positions in certain issues–for example, the application of the death penalty, which we oppose–we can address these differences in a frank and constructive matter. Germany and Indonesia have developed an intense political exchange on security policy, terrorism, extremism, interfaith dialogue and safeguarding global goods such as climate, environment and biodiversity. Furthermore, Germany and Indonesia have been elected as non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for the period of 2019-2020. Both countries will advocate our common belief in multilateralism and a world based on respect for rules and human rights.
It is important to know that the “Jakarta Declaration” concluded between Germany and Indonesia in 2012 and reaffirmed by Chancellor Merkel and President Joko Widodo during his 2016 visit to Berlin provides our two countries with a meaningful and comprehensive framework for our bilateral cooperation. One of the main priorities for Indonesia is cooperation in the field of vocational education as millions of young people seek jobs every year and require good qualifications to be employable. The German vocational education system, which builds upon very close cooperation between the government and private sector companies–with 70% of the training taking place in businesses, not schools–, is very good at providing these qualifications. We are therefore forging and promoting partnerships between German and Indonesian companies on the one hand and vocational schools on the other hand to improve the quality of vocational education and training.
Another important field of cooperation is energy. As a large and fast-growing economy, Indonesia’s energy demand is on the rise–an increase of 6-7% seems to be realistic over the next years. At the same time, it is national policy that the share of renewable energy is to be increased from today’s 13% to about 23% by 2025. Germany is actively supporting the Government of Indonesia in developing and increasing the use of clean and renewable energy sources both in metropolitan and rural areas. Our current portfolio on energy exceeds 2 billion euros in value, comprising projects in Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Nusa Tenggara. The main financial investments promote larger hydro- and geothermal power plants, as well as decentralized solutions using mini-hydro and solar power. On the other hand, we also support off-grid electrification as well as intelligent ways of on-grid renewables integration through our technical cooperation.
In this context, I would also like to highlight German-Indonesian bilateral cooperation in science, research and technology, which celebrated its 40-year anniversary this year. The figures for this period are impressive; from 1978 to 2019, approximately 77.8 million euros have been disbursed for 147 bilateral projects in scientific and research cooperation, notably the German-Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System. Other examples are scholarship programs for capacity-building measures, biodiversity, health, and forest research in Jambi, as well as cooperation with university and non-university research centers in the fields of humanities, biomass conversion, geothermal energy, and air and sea transport systems.
Currently, the German government provides funds for the GetIn-CICERO joint research laboratory between Universitas Gadjah Mada (Yogyakarta) and RWTH Aachen. Our two countries are also discussing future cooperation in the fields of circular economy and sustainable resource management.
Universities are necessary for research and science and I am very pleased to announce that there are about 139 cooperation projects between German and Indonesian universities; the most famous ones are the longstanding cooperation between University of Göttingen and Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB) in the field of tropical forestry and agricultural science and cooperation between Wismar University of Applied Sciences and Institut Teknologi Surabaya (ITS) with the joint bachelor program in Marine Engineering.
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) provides long-term lectures in marine science, international law and German language at universities in Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Bogor and Bandung. It also provides scholarship for studying and research in Germany. Every year, 600 Indonesian students, researchers and teaching staff are supported by DAAD.
It is encouraging to see that this intense cooperation has positive effects on the interest of young Indonesians to study in Germany. There are currently about 4,900 Indonesians studying in Germany, showing an increase of more than 87% over the last six years. The German language has also become increasingly popular. Currently, around 200,000 Indonesians are learning German; out of this number, more than 15,000 are studying at 29 partner schools throughout Indonesia.
Through its language and cultural work, Goethe-Institut Indonesia in Jakarta, with its branches in Bandung and Surabaya, has promoted comprehensive cultural exchange between our two countries. I will pay special focus towards projects which will promote the exchange and mobility of young people and cooperation with the creative industry.
5. Indonesia has just been announced as the next partner country of Hannover Messe 2020. What does this mean for Indonesia; how can the country or the bilateral relationships benefit from this?
At the Asia-Pacific Conference of German Business (APK), which took place from 1-3 November in Jakarta, the Government of Indonesia has officially confirmed to more than 1,000 high-ranking delegates its commitment towards realizing “Indonesia as Partner Country at Hannover Messe 2020”. Hannover Messe, which will take place from 20-24 April 2020 at the Hannover Fairgrounds, has over 70 years grown into the world’s leading trade fair for industrial technology.
The partner country initiative is the highlight of every Hannover Messe, in which the partner country takes the center stage and is in the spotlight. By 2020, Indonesia plans to become the biggest digital economy in Southeast Asia. To reach this goal, Indonesia has to support the development of its manufacturing industry to produce and offer high-tech products which can compete in the global market.
The Hannover Messe is the right place for Indonesia to present itself and the potentials to the world. It provides Indonesia the opportunity to exhibit its technological achievements, promote awareness within the global community, as well as attract foreign direct investments and promote the perception of Indonesia as a reliable partner for international cooperation and investments.
Indonesia’s participation at Hannover Messe 2020 is also a step forward to strengthen the longstanding and good economic relations between Indonesia and Germany, which started in the late 19th century when companies like Siemens, Mercedes-Benz, Bayer, and other now global players started doing business in Indonesia in the fields of automotive, energy, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, logistics, and so forth.