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(8/10/2002) In the wake of the whirlwind visit by U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, to Indonesia, members of the nation's tourism industry are growing increasingly confused as to the real nature of U.S. intentions toward this, the 4th most populous nation in the world.
With great fanfare, the U.S. Secretary of State arrived in Jakarta and promised $50 million of support to Indonesia in the U.S. - led international war on terrorism. Other initiatives announced in connection with Powell's visit included the resumption of energy talks between the two countries, on hold since the start of the regional economic crisis in 1997, and a thawing in U.S. relations with the Indonesian military establishment.
Those Problematic Indonesians!
While the U.S. continues to pay grudging praise and encouragement to Indonesia's efforts to modernize its economy and create democratic institutions, it's becoming increasingly clear that Washington finds dealing with a free and pluralistic Indonesia much more problematic than it did when relations were sorted out behind closed doors with a single, all-powerful autocratic leader. The remarkable finesse of Indonesia's President, managing to take concrete steps against terrorism without inadvertently bolstering endemic radical fundamentalist movements, goes seemingly unnoticed and unappreciated by Washington's policy makers.
How About a Thumbs Up - Instead of a Hand Out?
In terms of U.S. official relations, Indonesia continues to suffer from U.S. distrust and neglect. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the current U.S. Travel Advisory on Indonesia. That advisory, issued and unchanged since November 23, 2001, continues to caution American travelers "to defer non-essential travel to Indonesia."
Because, in fact, travel to Indonesia is demonstrably safe, this nation would benefit most from an urgent revision of the current negative travel advisory that continues to impede growth in U.S. travel arrival numbers to Indonesia.
Given the choice, Indonesia would prefer America's tourist visitors over its handouts of financial aid.
Food For Thought
The current U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Indonesia is reflective of the U.S. State Department's desire to use travel advisories to whip Indonesia and other countries into shapes more acceptable to the Bush Administration. Clearly, such warnings, as a means of providing meaningful information for American's traveling abroad, are utterly useless.
Why do we consider U.S. Travel Advisories more as tools of power politics than as sources of information for international travelers?
Consider the following:
* The travel warnings of most nations are regularly updated and changed, while it is now more than 8 months since the last advisory issued by the U.S. State Department has been updated.
* Most nations - including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany and Japan, do not try to describe Indonesia's vast array of cultures spread across 17,508 islands in simplified, homogeneous terms. Those countries, unlike the U.S., take both the time and effort to tell their citizens that many areas of Indonesia, including Bali, remain perfectly safe for visitors.
* The leading U.S. Travel Magazine, Travel & Leisure, in its annual survey of its well-traveled readers, just voted Bali as the best island destination in the world. Obviously, when it comes to safety in Bali, the American traveling public knows something the U.S. Government does not.
* During the more than 8 months in which the U.S. has been urging Americans to defer travel to Bali, the island has played host to numerous important international conferences, including the recent PrepCom IV Conference attended by large U.S. and Israeli delegations without major incident.
Forgive us if we conclude that someone in Washington simply refuses to grapple with the "real" security situation in Indonesia. As reported before, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Ralph Boyce, in direct contradiction with his own government's travel advisory, has publicly stated that he considers many areas of Indonesia safe for foreign visitors!
As an American-owned member of Bali's travel fraternity, balidiscovery.com enjoys a perfectly safe and peaceful existence in Bali. As a result, we are particularly saddened and concerned by U.S. official policy towards Indonesia as reflected in the current Indonesian travel advisory.
Beware of Vicious Dog
Secretary Powell's high flying official entourage on its visit to Indonesia has come and gone, leaving the residents of this nation with a $50 million "gift" and a friendly pat on the head, like some pet dog acknowledged for not straying too far from the pack.
However, current travel advisories suggest that the Bush Administration can't quite figure out if its dealing with a occasionally errant pit bill or a faithful collie when it comes to its Indonesian friends.
The sign posted by the U.S. Government at Indonesia's entrance warning "Beware of Large Mean Dog" is wrong on several counts. First, Indonesia, and particularly Bali, remains perfectly safe for international visitors. Second, such warnings continues to offend the dingity of this large and independent sovereign nation, very eager to be allies with the U.S.. One does not label the neighbors "dangerous," while at the same time proclaiming them "good friends." Finally, those in the know - like America's own Ambassador Boyce in Jakarta, accept that travelers to Indonesia have little to fear in terms of their personal safety.
Now that Secretary Powell has seen Indonesian first hand, we hope he'll soon visit the Jakarta U.S. Embassy website and pay the Indonesian people the ultimate respect by changing the outdated and very misleading information it shares with Americans considering travel to Indonesia.
Bali unsafe for Americans?
Sorry, Secretary Powell, but that dog just won't hunt.
It never did.