Creating Order out of Disorder – How Europe and Asia Can Work Together in an Unsettled World. Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the ASEAN Secretariat, Jakarta

03.11.2014 - Speech

Secretary-General Minh,
Ladies and gentlemen!

Many thanks for the warm welcome. I am very happy to be your guest today. This is my second visit to the ASEAN Secretariat – and I am glad that, this time, I get a chance to speak to all of you. I thank our co-host, the Habibie Center, and I look forward to our discussion!

I arrived with my delegation in Jakarta yesterday and have already seen many impressive locations in this vibrant capital of Indonesia.

- We visited the harbour and smelt the sea breeze; we saw beautiful old Pinisi that have sailed from island to island for centuries.

- We met school children, whose eyes shone as they told us about their classes. And what pleased me especially: Their eyes shone even more when they told us that they are learning the German language!

- And we went for a walk in the city and enjoyed mingling among the happy crowds of families, vendors and cyclists on car-free Sunday.

After this exciting day, I really had a spring in my step when I returned to our hotel! I thought: Jakarta and Berlin may be far apart geographically, but people all dream the same dreams: They want to live together peacefully; they want their children to have a good education; and of course, they don’t want to be stuck in traffic!


These impressions were a particularly pleasant start to our visit because they stand in contrast to our day-to-day foreign policy work – both in ASEAN and in the European Union – which is marked by tensions, crises and conflicts.

At the moment, many people feel as if the world is unravelling. Crises are coming at us thick and fast. International orders are under pressure – in Europe, here in Asia, and all over the world.

- Firstly, the conflict in Ukraine is of grave concern to us in Europe. Not only is the territorial integrity of a neighbouring country at risk – far more is at stake: Europe’s security architecture, which took decades to build and has brought decades of peace to our continent.

- Secondly, established orders are also coming under pressure here in Asia-Pacific. In a region that is developing so dynamically, the power equations are shifting. Tensions are arising over mineral deposits, fishing grounds and maritime areas such as the South and East China Sea. ASEAN’s role as an anchor of stability in the region is being put to a whole new test. And I believe: Because European security institutions are also being put to the test, we are in a situation where ASEAN and the EU should communicate with each other more than ever.

- Thirdly, we face a common threat: the barbaric terrorism of the organisation that has named itself “Islamic State” and is abusing the name of God for devil’s work. This terror is not only causing untold suffering in Syria and Iraq – it is directed against humanity itself. It is a threat that goes far beyond the Arab world.

- Fourthly, a deadly epidemic called Ebola is raging in West Africa. Very rapidly, Ebola is becoming a global threat, similarly to the SARS epidemic in Asia a few years ago. Once again, we are learning that in a globalized world where hopes and opportunities transcend borders, so do threats and risks! I am afraid that we will have to get used to and find answers to the fact that international crises – political, economic and humanitarian crises – will increasingly be the norm rather than the exception.

In short: foreign policy is in crisis mode! Systems are under pressure. Disorder is spreading.


However, ladies and gentlemen, if we want to act again disorder, we need an idea of what order looks like. Or let me put it in maritime language, which so often sets the tone here in Jakarta: The stormier the sea, the more the captain needs a compass!

As you may know, we Germans will celebrate a very special anniversary in six days’ time: the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. For Germany, that day was the breakthrough moment for reunification. For Europe and large parts of the world, that day marked the beginning of the end of the old bipolar order, of the division into East and West.

Fortunately, the old order of Cold War times is lost. But the world still hasn’t found a new order. Only one thing is certain: the old order will and should not return. The division between East and West came to an end – and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that it does not return as a result of the Ukraine conflict.

Another reason why the old order will not return is because the scenery on the world stage is lost. New players are entering the stage. And these players are not only growing economically. They also want a say in global politics!

Indonesia is one of these countries, and its aspirations were articulated by President Widodo in his inaugural speech a few days ago: He said, Indonesia “wants to be a great nation that makes noble contributions to global civilisation”. Let me reply: As Germans, as Europeans, we wholeheartedly welcome these noble contributions!


So let’s look at this world together: If the world is no longer bipolar after the end of the Cold War, what is it then?

Some people expected a multipolar order to arise. Yet my impression is that the world is no more bi-polar but not yet multi-polar. Instead, I am afraid that we are now living in a non-polar world: a world in search of a new order. I believe that we, Germans and Indonesians, Europeans and Asians, can make joint contributions to this search!

You may ask: Why should we? President Jokowi often says: Improving people’s lives – that is our job! I agree. And as Foreign Minister, I want to add: In this interconnected world, our people will only live in peace, prosperity and freedom if we do all we can for international order.

I would like to use my speech today to extend an invitation: Let us look for common perspectives and common goals!

Let us ask ourselves how Asians and Europeans, Germans and Indonesians, can work together to develop building blocks of a new order!


Unfortunately, it is in the nature of crises that everyone becomes fixated on differences – on the differences between religions and cultures, the differences between East and West, North and South. But if we want to resolve conflicts and create new order, then we need to do the opposite: We need to look for common ground!

When I entered President Widodo’s palace today, I saw a wonderful symbol of common ground: Indonesia’s magnificent coat of arms, with the mythical Garuda eagle and in it five symbols, the Pancasila, the five principles of the Indonesian constitution. One of these five is called ‚Kemanusian‘. As you know, I am neither a scholar of the Indonesian constitution nor an Indonesian-German translator, but I know that much: Kemanusian expresses exactly what I mean: the belief in the common humanity we all share. The symbol of Kemanusian in the coat of arms is a golden chain – a chain of humanity that connects all people who live on our planet.


Later in our talk, President Widodo said: Indonesia wants to play a part in translating this common humanity into new elements of international order.

In my view, the aspirations of Germans and Indonesians, Europeans and Asians for such an international order coincide in three goals:

- Firstly, our common longing for peace –peace forged not by the law of strength, but by the strength of law – peace because diplomacy takes precedence over the sword!

- Secondly, our common interest in prosperity – an interest shared especially by Indonesia, the largest economy in ASEAN, and Germany, the largest economy in the EU.

- Thirdly, our common experiences with a vibrant, free and pluralistic civil society. “Reformasi!” was the call of students who took to the streets of Indonesia in 1998 to ask for reforms – political and social reforms that made the country’s rise possible. “We are the people!” was a very similar slogan in my country, the call of the courageous people in East Germany who brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989. Germany also has reformed and opened up its society in the 25 years since. Today, in our quest for an international order, let’s make use of these similar experiences!


I spoke today with my Indonesian colleague, the Foreign Minister, about the guiding principle that has shaped Indonesian foreign policy for decades: ‘Bebas - aktif’ – independent and active. I told her: In both parts of this motto, I see common ground with Germany and Europe.

- “Independent”, in my opinion, does not mean doing away with friends or partners or regional cooperation. What it means is respecting the sovereignty of states – respecting the freedom of peoples to take their destiny into their own hands. So in my view, independence is freedom from arbitrariness, from outside interference. This is why we need rules, why we need international law that protects the sovereignty of all nations, be they large or small. In short: We become independent by making ourselves dependent on rules. That is my interpretation of ‘bebas’!

- “Active” is equally important in my opinion. It will hardly come as a surprise to you when I say that international order won’t just fall into our lap. It requires countries that are willing to take on responsibility and to get involved, also beyond their own front garden.

Germany and Indonesia, as the most populous nations with the strongest economies in their regions, should take on this responsibility! Because of our strength, we should be engines of progress in ASEAN and the EU!


In the last part of my speech, let me be concrete: How exactly should we be active? I think that the three common goals I have named – peace, prosperity and a vibrant civil society– should be our compass. They are the three key areas in which Europeans and Asians, the EU and ASEAN, can develop new elements of order.

Firstly, the desire for peace. We are lucky that in Europe as in Asia, we have regional security structures which we can build on and build up further. And now, when stability is being put to the test in Europe as well as in Asia, we can and should work together more than ever before. We should exchange views, learn from one another and help each other to strengthen multilateral institutions:

- Here in the ASEAN Secretariat itself, and in other ASEAN Institutions, such as the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, and in the “Institute for Peace and Reconciliation” that is in the making.

- Or with specific initiatives, for example the EU-ASEAN disarmament initiative on small arms and against weapons smuggling, which we agreed on in the EU-ASEAN work programme and which we should put into action swiftly.

In a country of 17,000 islands, maritime security is a field of particular importance. Yet not just here, but all around the world, concerns and tensions are rising over the use of the sea. I think that just as we need to respect the traffic rules of the roads, we need to develop and respect traffic rules of the sea! It is good that we are talking about this on all levels – with experts as well as on the political and bilateral level, in the EU and ASEAN – for example recently here in Jakarta at the EU-ASEAN High Level Dialogue on Maritime Cooperation.

We focus on questions such as border control and combating piracy. For example, a group of European and Indonesian officers recently met to discuss experiences with Operation ATALANTA off the Horn of Africa. We should increase and develop such encounters, for I’m convinced that, united as we are by our common interest in conflict prevention and peaceful conflict resolution, our ASEAN and EU programs and institutions are assets to learn from on both sides.


Secondly: our economic interests. Yes, we want more trade and more prosperity and a better life for the people in our countries. But we know that all of this depends on stability and a free and fair economic order. ASEAN and the EU are economic heavyweights. We should bring this weight to bear when it comes to shaping economic globalisation. For it is the regulations and frameworks that we set up today that will determine whether people in 20 or 50 years will work and trade and live better than today.

I know one thing for sure: Our children will only be better off if we leave our planet intact for them to live on. The EU has just decided to reduce its CO2- emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. I have a suggestion for you: Let’s show some ‘climate leadership’ – we in Europe and you in Asia: Let’s set clear goals and use the right instruments, including an intelligent foreign energy policy. Then we’ll meet again a year from now in Paris and we’ll be a whole step closer to a global deal. Sound ambitious? I think it’s an ambition we need!


And finally the third area – civil society. In both our countries’ history, we have experienced that a vibrant civil society is the most fertile soil for peace and for prosperity. That’s why we have set up an ‘Indonesia Germany Advisory Group’, including civil society, academia and businesses, so that -, as governments - we learn to listen to our societies, and, in that way, learn and grow with one another.

Also with regard to our regions, we’ve learnt that no treaty or political summit can spur on regional integration as much as the real human ties growing between societies. Today, the EU is above all a community of peoples – a community of friends. And so, as a European, I find it exciting to observe an integration process in ASEAN, too, which bit by bit is drawing in all areas of society: mayors of capital cities are meeting and exchanging views, social groups and think tanks are creating cross-border networks and, gradually, we’re seeing the emergence of a truly transnational civil society.


Just before this event, I’ve had a wonderful experience: My delegation and I visited the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in all of South East Asia and one of the biggest mosques in the world. First, when we got there, I learned that the big dome is made of German steel…

And then - when we walked outside its magnificent columns, then right across the street, we saw the old cathedral! Two world religions, standing alongside each other so naturally and peacefully in the heart of the buzzing city of Jakarta – That is a powerful symbol of the religious and ethnic diversity which Indonesia has such long and profound experience with – indeed a lot more experience than we have in my own country.

I say that with great respect, and I believe that the Indonesian model shines out as a great example. It shines out to us in Germany – and I am pleased that we will continue our ‘Interfaith Dialogue’ in Berlin in the coming spring.

But it also shines out to the world, at a time when religiously-charged fanaticism is haunting the world like an evil demon. I have already said that the ISIS terror is a threat which extends far beyond Syria or Iraq. It reaches deep into our own societies. We need to ask ourselves: How can it be that young people who grew up in our midst are falling under the spell of hate and terror and go to the Middle East to murder other people? And let me add with personal concern that we know of many more such foreign fighters from Germany than from Indonesia…

One thing is clear: We won’t exterminate this virus of hate with bombs alone. The military fight against ISIS is only part of a much broader political and social strategy to dry up support for the extremists. And I think, in full respect for your vibrant pluralistic society, that Indonesia, as the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, can shine out as a role model for living religious diversity.


I am sorry to leave you with a rather burdensome impression: But indeed – Before us lies a mountain of work! Somewhere up there is a new order, but it is a long way to go. The steps of foreign policy are often small and cumbersome.

But there is something that can give us hope: our own domestic experiences. Both Germany and Indonesia have climbed a large mountain of inner reforms. ‘Reformasi!’ – ‘Wir sind das Volk!’ the people of Indonesia and Germany have said and they have proven that democracy has the power of change! That progress is possible!

I say: Let’s now turn this energy outward! This world, which is both unsettled and unsettling, really needs it! From this trip to Indonesia, I take home a new inspiration: Kemanusian – the belief in the one humanity that connects us all. The golden chain in Indonesia’s coat of arms – isn’t it a wonderful symbol for the work that lies ahead of us? Let’s take on this work.

Thank you very much.

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