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Indonesia: Help from a Bitten Hand

3 minute read

His reception was pointedly restrained, but the dapper, dusky VIP who debarked at the Amsterdam air port last week could hardly expect brass bands. Dr. Subandrio, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier, was the highest-ranking official from Djakarta to set foot in The Netherlands since the Dutch bitterly granted his rebellious nation independence 15 years ago. His aim in “normalizing ties” has been increasingly evident for months.

Like many another leader from the new nations, Indonesia’s bellicose Strong man “Bung” Sukarno has had to go hat in hand to his old and derided colonial masters for help.

To the Brink. With colossal mismanagement at home and bullying adventures abroad, Sukarno has pushed his sprawling, intrinsically rich island nation to the brink of bankruptcy. On Java, where 60% of all Indonesians live, recurring drought and a rat plague have led to outright famine. Irked by Sukarno’s “Crush Malaysia” campaign, the U.S. is phasing out its aid (total to date: $896 million), last month shipped Indonesia its final 40,000 tons of American rice. Blustered Sukarno: “To hell with aid!” Turning hopefully to Holland, Indonesia last year resumed diplomatic relations, which had been broken in 1960 during Sukarno’s noisy, successful cam paign to oust the Dutch from West New Guinea. The trade-minded Dutch, who are more interested in new profits than in salvaging old concessions, were eager to do business again. Last fall the Dutch signed agreements to help merchandise Indonesian rubber, coffee, copra and tea — all of which had piled up on the docks since Djakarta’s anti-Malaysia campaign cut off its trade with Singapore, Indonesia’s traditional marketing center.

Dream Bait. During his three-day stay, Subandrio conferred with Dutch Foreign Minister Joseph Luns and Prime Minister Victor Marijnen, was granted a 45-minute audience with Queen Juliana, to whom he relayed “hearty greetings” from Sukarno. The Dutch, who agreed not to press for immediate payments on the $670 mil lion worth of Dutch properties expropriated by Sukarno six years ago, signed a technical-aid agreement with Indonesia, leaving tedious business details for later discussion. Beamed Subandrio: “We have no deep political differences any more.” Having been twice bitten by Sukarno, both in Indonesia and New Guinea, the Dutch will demand tight guarantees in their dealings with him. Though in effect they are helping the dictator over the economic problems resulting from his Malaysian “confrontation,” the Dutch insist that they do not intend to bolster Indonesia’s harassment of the new federation. Malaysia, whose own trade with The Netherlands runs to a healthy $75 million yearly, is not so sure—and has grounds for increasing concern about anything beneficial to Sukarno. The size of Indonesian raiding parties infiltrating Malaysia is on the increase. Last week a British military adviser reported that for the first time the Indonesian army—as opposed to guerrilla “volunteers”—had tried unsuccessfully to set up a base on Malaysian soil.

But The Netherlands’ Luns agreed to visit Djakarta next July for a conference with Sukarno. If Sukarno behaves himself, the Dutch tantalizingly hinted, they might fulfill Bung’s lifelong dream of a splendiferous state visit to The Netherlands.

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