ASTANA – Indonesia and Kazakhstan have substantial potential to boost cooperation in areas such as energy, trade, tourism as well as investment cooperation between the sister-cities Astana and Nusantara, said Ambassador of Indonesia to Kazakhstan Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman in an interview with The Astana Times.
Ambassador’s two years in Kazakhstan
For almost two years as an ambassador, Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman was able to gain some invaluable insights into everyday life in the country, from its food and tourism destinations to how its people viewed the world.
What is the better way to know a foreign country than through the stories of prominent people who have lived here?
“The first time I came here I remembered the name of Mr. Tokayev because he’s the President of Kazakhstan,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
Due to his interest in literature and poetry, the name of the great Kazakh poet Abai piqued his curiosity as well.
“The second name I learned was Abai Kunanbayev because I love literature and I wanted to find out who is the most prominent poet or writer here in Kazakhstan. Then I tried to find his book,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman while holding Abai’s “Kara Soz” (Book of Words).
“And the third name: I tried to find out who is the intellectual from Kazakhstan. What I got was the name of Al-Farabi. Al-Frabi is a philosopher and also an Islamic thinker. In the world of Islamic teaching some call Al-Farabi the father of Islamic political studies,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
Traveling was also among the most insightful experiences the ambassador had, as he visited Turkistan, Burabai National Park and Shymbulak ski resort in Almaty. Coming from a region with no snow, the Shymbulak ski resort was especially stunning for the ambassador.
When it comes to food, Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman said he enjoys shahslyk and beshbarmak, a national meal of boiled meat with dough.
“In Indonesia, we eat rice, you eat bread; we eat fish and you eat meat,” said the ambassador highlighting the differences in the two nations’ cuisines. “Because Indonesia is an archipelago, there are many fish over there but it is hard to find fish here.”
Among the things that make it feel like home, Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman named the hospitality of Kazakh people which is “very much like in Asia.”
Economy and trade relations
Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman said Indonesian President Joko Widodo has advised that 80% of the ambassador’s activities in Kazakhstan should focus on the development of trade and economic ties.
“After two years here, our activities in the economy I think are slowly recovering after the pandemic. Our trading value was around $291 million in 2021 and in 2022, when I was here, it became $700 million. Our target this year or in 2024 is to reach $1 billion,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
The country’s top export to Kazakhstan is palm oil and the biggest export from Kazakhstan to Indonesia is ferroalloys.
“We are also now finalizing the free trade agreement between Indonesia and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). The first round was held in Moscow last July. We are finalizing the second round in Bali, maybe at the end of this year,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
“If we finalize it and sign the free trade agreement between Indonesia and the Eurasian Economic Union, the trade volume could double. It means our target in the near future is $2 billion,” he added.
Indonesia also aims to diversify its trade with Kazakhstan.
“We have to diversify,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman. “Oil, gas and minerals are of a big value from here to Indonesia. I have talked to the ambassador of Kazakhstan in Indonesia and he said that Kazakhstan now needs not only coffee and tea, but also textiles, furniture and TV monitors.”
The memorandums of understanding (MoU) on oil, energy and minerals are to be finalized soon as well.
“Indonesia now is producing electric vehicle batteries. For that, we need lithium and cobalt and Kazakhstan has a very big deposit of lithium and cobalt. So I think it is also the arena to collaborate between Kazakhstan and Indonesia,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
Looking ahead, Indonesia will focus on working with Kazakhstan as a partner in enhancing trade in the digital economy, which the ambassador identified as the solution for a landlocked country.
“The newest product that I want to speed up is the digital and creative economy. It can very easily solve the problem of what we call a landlocked country because digital and creative economies such as films and games and start-up companies are not physical products, they are intellectual property trading. So it is easy,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
Astana – Nusantara, twin cities
Today the capital of Indonesia is in transition from Jakarta to the new capital city Nusantara. Drawing on Kazakhstan’s experience in capital transfer, the two countries chose to foster a partnership.
At the heart of such partnerships is the memorandum of understanding between Astana and Nusantara. The document, which was signed in July, establishes the sister-city cooperation that allows for collaboration on urban development and infrastructure.
“Astana is the newest cosmopolitan capital city in the world now. In 2024, the newest cosmopolitan capital city in the world will become Nusantara,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman. The opening of the new capital Nusantara is scheduled on Aug. 17, 2024.
According to Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman, Astana and Nusantara share several similarities in the rationale behind their respective decisions to relocate the capital.
One is the overpopulation of the former capital cities. “In Jakarta, just in one city, the population is 15 million,” he said.
Both countries also considered the strategic placement of their new capital cities, positioning them geographically towards the central regions.
“Nusantara is in the middle part of Indonesia. When I saw the map of Kazakhstan Astana was also moved in the middle of Kazakhstan. Jakarta is the western part of Indonesia. We have 17,700 islands in Indonesia and 1,330 ethnic groups, so we have to unite,” said the ambassador about another reason to move the capital.
Additionally, moving the capital is expected to bring a shift in economic development, redistributing prosperity more evenly across regions and fostering broader national growth.
“From what I saw here, Almaty was in the eastern part of Kazakhstan, which was very developed, unlike the northern part. So I think it was very strategic to move the capital from Almaty to Astana. It meant spreading the economic growth not only to the eastern part, but also the central and the northern parts of Kazakhstan,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
Many exciting opportunities abound in the tourism sector as well.
“Before the pandemic, it was almost 10,000 tourists coming to Indonesia, especially to Bali, from Kazakhstan. In the middle of this year, we had more than 5,000 tourists from Kazakhstan to Indonesia. Our target is around from 8,000-10,000 tourists going from Kazakhstan to Indonesia and around 3,000 to 4,000 people of Indonesia coming to Kazakhstan,” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
The direct flight between Kazakhstan and Indonesia is a welcome development, according to the ambassador. Discussions have been organized involving the Kazakh civil aviation committee and foreign ministry with further deliberations scheduled to take place with Air Astana, exploring the potential for direct flight from Almaty to Bali and back.
“I think the potential for direct flight from Kazakhstan to Indonesia is very big because Kazakhstan is the richest country in the region. Can you imagine the gross domestic product (GDP) of Kazakhstan per capita is twice the Indonesian GDP per capita?” said Mochamad Fadjroel Rachman.
Kazakhstan would also benefit from the direct flight because Indonesia is a cosmopolitan nation with a diverse population spread over 17,700 islands.
“There is also potential for Kazakhstan because Indonesia is the 15th biggest economy in the world and we have 285 million people. Tourism and direct flight has a demand,” added the ambassador.