Dutch Royalty Visits Indonesia: Enduring Friendship but Unlikely Partners

11 March 2020 Jarryd de Haan, Research Analyst, Indo-Pacific Research Programme

Background

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima are currently in Indonesia on a state visit along with a 130-strong delegation that will conclude on 13 March. Arriving in Jakarta on 10 March, the King and Queen met with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for a welcoming ceremony and lunch where business deals were signed totalling close to $1.5 billion. The rest of the itinerary for the King and Queen includes visiting Yogyakarta to talk with business leaders, Kalimantan to observe nature conservation efforts and Sumatra to look at the potential of ecotourism there. The visit is the first in 25 years from a Dutch monarch and comes after a visit by the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, in October 2019.

 

Comment

As to be expected from a visit by a royal family, the stay so far has been largely symbolic, with the exception of the $1.5 billion in business deals reached. The Dutch King arrived in Jakarta with a golden dagger in hand, also called a kris, belonging to Indonesian national hero Prince Diponegoro, who led fighting against the Dutch during the Java War of 1825-30. During a statement addressed to Jokowi, King Willem also made an official apology for the ‘excessive violence’ experienced in Indonesia following its separation from the Netherlands. While that apology made “breaking” headlines in Indonesia’s media, it is not a new development in the bilateral relationship. The Dutch Government has apologised several times in the past and has made a number of payments in compensation. It is, however, the first apology from a Dutch monarch and, along with the gesture of returning the kris, the visit imparts a significant air of goodwill towards the Indonesian public.

While tone of the visit was filled with optimism for the future of the relationship, there are, in reality, still some obstacles to overcome. Indonesia’s exports to the Netherlands have varied considerably over the past decade but lack any sign of consistent growth. That is partly due to declining palm oil exports as a result of stricter import regulations imposed by the European Union. The Dutch Government, however, has not been in favour of the restrictions and has been supportive of Indonesia’s efforts to qualify its product in the EU market. In terms of foreign direct investment, on the other hand, the past few years have seen investment in Indonesia from the Netherlands increase significantly from US$1.5 billion in 2016 to US$2.6 billion in 2019, maintaining its ranking as Indonesia’s fifth-largest source of investment.

Outside the economic sphere, there is little scope for significant progress in the strategic relationship, at least bilaterally. Given the vast geographical space between the two countries, their geopolitical outlooks differ significantly and any shared security interests are not unique to the relationship. Rather than looking more closely at opportunities in the bilateral partnership, the Dutch Government has placed greater emphasis on a “Strategic Partnership” between the EU and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a way of promoting greater multilateral co-operation amid growing unilateralism. While the EU made that partnership official in January 2019, ASEAN halted the process in response to EU restrictions on palm oil. That poor beginning to the “Strategic Partnership” casts a long shadow over any meaningful strategic relationship between both groups.

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