The year 2020 will remain as a milestone in the relations between Czech Republic, a Central European country, and Indonesia, the largest economy in Southeast Asia.
Friendship between the two countries began in 1950 with the establishment of diplomatic relations between the then-Czechoslovakia and Indonesia. The former eventually split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
“Our relationship is already 70 years old. The present COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in a big way this year,” outgoing Czech Ambassador to Indonesia Ivan Hotěk told this author recently in Jakarta.
But he said that the COVID-19 pandemic did not reduce the spirit nor enthusiasm of both countries to continue their cooperation in many fields. They are determined to take their old relations to new heights in the coming years.
“We have excellent relations with Indonesia, especially in the fields of trade, energy, defence, transportation, environment, tourism and education,” Hotěk said.
“During my five-year stay in Indonesia, we have achieved many things in many fields.”
According to Hotěk, both countries had signed an air transportation agreement in 2017.
“It is a major breakthrough in our relationship,” he said.
The cordial relationship between the two countries has been expanding in scope and size during the last five years.
“I am very pleased to mention that our country is ready to collaborate with Indonesia to promote peace and stability at the global level,” Hotěk said.
Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy and member of the G20, and the Czech Republic have been working closely at various international forums to promote democracy, human rights, free markets, tolerance and peace.
“Indonesia is very active in contributing to international peacekeeping forces. Our troops are in Mali as part of a peacekeeping operation. We have similar views on many international issues like terrorism, climate change and democracy,” the popular ambassador, who has more than three decades of experience in diplomacy, explained.
Indonesian leaders are also confident about the future of relations and mutual cooperation between the two countries.
“We are very glad that there are no major issues between our two countries, and the only thing that we have to do in the future is to strengthen the economic cooperation between our two countries,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said recently.
Despite the long geographical distance between Czech Republic and Indonesia, the economic interactions between the two countries are amazing.
“Our bilateral trade is currently around half a billion U.S. dollars. Based on our statistics, the trade is heavily in favour of Indonesia. The bilateral trade will grow further in the future as both countries have huge potential,” Hotěk said.
The Czech Republic, a developed European country, exports mainly machinery, automobile spare parts, crystal glassware and many other items to Indonesia and imports products such as rubber, paper, furniture and garments from Indonesia. Indonesia exported US$343 million worth of goods to the Czech Republic while importing $135 million worth of goods from the latter in 2018.
Around 45 Czech companies are currently operating in Indonesia, including Home Credit and the well-established shoe manufacturer, Bata. There are also many small and medium-sized Czech companies operating in Bali and other tourist spots in Indonesia.
Hotěk further said that Czech businesspeople were interested in investing in dynamic Indonesia.
“We are not just coming here to sell our products. We want to invest here, create jobs, boost exports and share our experiences and technology with our Indonesian counterparts. The trade and investments must be mutually beneficial,” Hotěk, who has worked for 14 years in Southeast Asia, said.
“We have the best technology in renewable energy. Czech companies are interested in investing in Indonesia, mainly in the waste-to-energy area. It means producing energy from waste. We are also cooperating with Indonesia in hydroelectricity and waste management.”
With a $245 billion GDP and a population of 10.70 million people, the Czech Republic is an industrialized and developed country. Due to an aging population and workforce shortage, Czech companies are desperately looking for countries to invest in and establish their factories. Rising Indonesia is one of them.
“Indonesia has vast natural resources and a huge domestic market of more than 270 million people. We are also ready to train Indonesian youth in our country to work in Czech companies in Indonesia,” Hotěk said.
Jakarta, according to the Czech Ambassador, hosted the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) meeting in 2019 to enhance economic cooperation and boost bilateral trade. The next JEC meeting will be held in Prague next year.
The Czech Republic, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), is well-known for its weapons and defence equipment.
“We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with Indonesia in the defence sector. We are planning to supply weapons, radars and communication equipment. Our Defence Minister, Lubomir Metnar, has already visited Indonesia in 2018 to enhance cooperation between the two countries,” Hotěk said.
Likewise, the Czech Foreign Minister visited Indonesia in 2016 to strengthen bilateral relations.
People-to people contacts, according to Hotěk, have also been on the rise. The number of Czech tourists visiting Indonesia has gone up due to Indonesia’s free-visa policy. For example, 19,696 Czech tourists visited Indonesia in 2017.
Many Indonesian students are currently studying at top Czech universities, while many Czech students studied under the Dharmasiswa scholarship programme in Indonesia.
Around 1,000 Czech nationals are also living in Indonesia.
As an old friend of Indonesia, the Czech Republic is always ready to offer help in tough times, such as during the 2018 earthquake which devastated the country. “We donated 100,000 euros to rebuild four schools in Lombok that were damaged by the 2018 earthquake. The schools were built through the Czech NGO, Happy Hearts Indonesia,” Hotěk said.
Happy Hearts Indonesia was founded by a Czech fundraiser, who is a top Czech model in the U.S. with a vision to rebuild schools in disaster-hit and underprivileged areas in Indonesia. The reconstruction of school buildings in Lombok was completed in 2019.
Hotěk further mentioned that the Czech Republic donated 400,000 euros after a deadly earthquake and tsunami struck Palu and its surrounding area in Central Sulawesi in 2018.
“In addition to 400,000 euros, we plan to give another 100,000 euros to build earthquake-proof buildings in Palu,” Hotěk said.
The Czech Embassy, with the help of its citizens and businesses, raised $25,000 in a charity event last year. With this money, a school building will be built in East Nusa Tenggara province, also with the help of Happy Hearts Indonesia.
The governor of West Nusa Tenggara province in Indonesia has sent dozens of youths to study in Czech universities in recent years.
The Czech Republic, an EU member since 2004, is also working with various countries and international organizations to reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As part of the EU’s Team Europe initiative, the Czech Republic is actively working with other EU member countries to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in partner countries like Indonesia. This is an important effort by EU to help partner countries to overcome the grave situation arising from the pandemic and bring back normalcy,” Hotěk said.
In an effort to provide consular services and promote trade, Czech Embassy has appointed three honorary consuls in Surabaya, Bali and Makassar.
While commenting on the future state of bilateral relations, Hotěk said that both countries will have a bright future.
“The future of our relations with Indonesia is very bright. There are enormous opportunities in both countries. What is important is that the relationship must be mutually beneficial. It should also be based on mutual respect.”