Manila. Newly installed into his latest job, Chairul Tanjung made his first foreign appearance at the World Economic Forum on East Asia as Indonesia’s chief economics minister. Smiling and confident, Tanjung met with other senior regional government officials, business leaders and the media.
While all the attention was on Asia’s latest economic darling, the Philippines, Chairul did not miss a beat when reminding those he met that Indonesia remained the largest economy in the region. And the past decade of solid economic growth has positioned the country as the linchpin for the region.
“Indonesia is still growing and with 240 million people, we have more productive people who are economically active than those who are not,” he told the Jakarta Globe. “This allows us to fund our growth which will continue for the next 20 to 30 years.”
When asked if the country is ready for the Asean Economic Community, which comes into force in 2015, he replied with a definitive yes.
“We have the largest population in Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and we account for 40 percent of the Asean economy. We have to be ready,” Chairul said.
He added that according to a scoring system adopted by the association’s 10 member countries regarding the readiness of each member state for the AEC, which will herald a common market in the region, Chairul said Indonesia scored a healthy 77 percent.
“The average score was 70 percent so we are on track,” he noted. “Between our countries, import tariffs for many goods are already zero but now we have to tackle the non-tariff barriers.”
The AEC will have winners and losers and those economies who join the program early will be the bigger beneficiaries.
Countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos will benefit less as their economies are less developed.
“But we’re a caring, sharing organization and those who benefit more will share with those who benefit less,” Chairul said. “That is the spirit of Asean.”
He added that even with the AEC, individual countries will still have the right to protect those segments of the economy they deem fragile, such as agriculture and small- and medium-sized enterprises.
“The business community is ready to join the AEC but we have to socialize our responsibility,” he said. “Not all businessmen understand the benefits of the AEC so we have to work hard to educate them.”
Heading a fast-growing media empire, Chairul has just reached an agreement with Turner Broadcasting to provide CNN Indonesia, adding to his already significant stable of media assets. A strong believer in technology, he noted that technology will drive future growth even though many sectors within the economy were not dependent on technological developments.
“We are not yet an information society as many sectors are still regarded as primary sectors,” he said. “But the lifestyle of the middle class is very technologically driven, especially social media so we are starting to use more technology in our company as well as our economy.”
CNN Indonesia, which will be broadcast in Bahasa Indonesia, will focus on video news clips as well as pictures. Detik.com, the country’s top online news portal, which Chairul also owns, will continue to focus on breaking news in text and pictures.
“Traditional media still dominates but digital media is growing fast from a low base,” he said. “I expect that in the next five to 10 years, we will move to 5G and everyone will be viewing videos on their smartphones.”
Explaining the reasoning behind his joint venture with CNN, he noted that broadband usage in Indonesia is growing fast and that e-commerce will be widely practiced within the next 10 years.
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