By Dr. Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat
The year 2023 will be a new chapter for bilateral relations between Qatar and Indonesia with the appointment of Indonesia as a partner country for a key annual event organized by Qatar, namely the Qatar Year of Culture.
This agreement was signed at a meeting held by the Indonesian Ambassador together with the general manager of the Katara Cultural Village Foundation (KATARA) in 2021.
In this prestigious event, not all countries can be involved, but countries that have a unique and prominent cultural reputation. Indonesia would be the first Southeast Asian country to participate as a partner. The Qatar Year of Culture has been held every year since 2012. Countries that have contributed as partners include France, India, Japan, and Turkey.
The program has attracted quite a lot of attention because it is usually held throughout the year.
The choice of Indonesia as partner is not surprising, given that the two countries have strengthened their cultural cooperation in recent years and both have geopolitical interests involving each other.
Indeed, Jakarta and Doha have cultivated strong cultural ties in the recent years, especially with their growing political and economic ties.
This has been done through various Memorandums of Understanding (MoU). For example, in 2018 the Qatar Investment Authority and the Indonesian government signed a cooperation agreement to develop the tourism potential of Lombok Island, especially in the Mandalika region, with Qatar investing US$ 500 million.
Previously, in 2017 the two countries also signed an MoU in the field of education and culture during the visit of the Emir of Qatar to Indonesia. There was a plan to build twin universities between the governments of Qatar and Indonesia. Moreover, it is reported that many Qatari donors are also involved in the construction of other educational facilities such as schools and orphanages.
Last year, Ridwan Hassan, the Indonesian ambassador to Qatar, met with Mohammed Abdul Wahed Al Hammadi, Qatar’s minister of higher education and teaching to discuss ways to strengthen Qatar-Indonesia cultural ties. In this meeting the Indonesian ambassador promoted the Indonesian International Islamic University (UII) as a university that is open for collaboration with their Indonesian counterparts. On the other hand, Qatar University was reported to be planning to open a branch in Indonesia. Over the years, the Qatari government has also offered full scholarships for Indonesian students, both at university and high school levels.
Discussions on educational cooperation was also taking place this year through a special visit made by the Qatari Ambassador to the Nahdlatul Ulama Executive Board (PBNU) this month, where they discussed the possibility of strengthening ties in the cultural and religious realms.
The strengthening of cultural cooperation between Jakarta and Doha is not without motivations.
Doha, with its ‘Look East’ policy, has been looking toward ASEAN’s largest nation. Trade between the two countries has grown with Indonesia’s exports to Doha reaching US$168.3 million in 2019. In addition, Qatar is also one of Indonesia’s biggest importers of natural gas and aluminum. Indonesia is also one of the countries that contributes to labor migrants in Qatar.
The Indonesian government has made a series of efforts to increase investment cooperation through a meeting held with the deputy chair of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Commercial Bank of Qatar to accelerate economic recovery in post-COVID-19 era.
Not only in the economic realm, Jakarta and Doha has also collaborated in the field of defense and security. This was apparent in 2016 when the Indo Defense event was held in Jakarta where the Indonesian defense minister at the time, Ryamizard Ryacudu, invited Qatar Defense Minister Khalid BIn Mohammed Al Attiyah to attend the event. Furthermore, defense and security cooperation was again discussed in a meeting between Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and Qatari Ambassador to Indonesia HE Ms. Fawziya Edrees Salman Al-Sulaiti in 2020.
Likewise in the political field, recently relations between Qatar and Indonesia have also continued to improve positively. Both countries are quite active in voicing for peace in the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan and Palestine. Even when Qatar was boycotted by a number of Gulf countries in 2017, Indonesia continued to show its support and readiness as a facilitator in the tensions.
For Qatar, Indonesia, as Southeast Asia’s largest economy, is an attractive opportunity for its economic expansion. It also represents a gateway for Doha to expand in the wider ASEAN region. Meanwhile, Indonesia, which still needs to attract billions of dollars in investment to boost its fledgling economy, help fuel growth, and cut unemployment, Qatar’s growing economic foothold is not only welcomed, but encouraged.
The Qatar Year of Culture event, and the broader cultural ties, can be used as tools of public diplomacy for the two countries to strengthen the economic and political ties that they have maintained.
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Geopoliticalmonitor.com