Interview by: Heidi PP – Editor in Chief, iF Magazine
First, tell us about yourself and walk us through your background.
I have been working in the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for almost 24 year, and this diplomatic consular post in Houston Texas is indeed a privilege and a great opportunity for my career and personal growth.
I have been blessed to have Indonesian parents who also served as diplomats since the 60s, taking me to London-UK, Sydney-Australia, Wellington-NZ and Sanaa-Yemen.
During my time in Wellington in 1990, I met my future wife, Eurika Putri Anindhita and we married 8 years later. Since then, I have been blessed with four children.
Prior to being a diplomat, I worked in Procter Gamble Indonesia, marketing Rejoice shampoo. I was pretty good at it too. But in 1998, the national reform movement encouraged me to work in government, specifically the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
How long have you been a diplomat? Have you always wanted to be a part of your country’s diplomatic group?
I have been a career diplomat for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1998. At that time, Indonesia was deeply impacted by the Asian financial crisis. Its economy shrunk by 30% and it had to embark on massive reforms.
The decision to be a diplomat was a bit of a surprise, even to my father who was at the time Indonesia’s Ambassador in Sanaa, Yemen from 1996 to 2000. He tried to persuade me to join the Ministry years before graduating school but I was at the time eager to work in the private sector.
When Indonesia embarked on national reform in May 1998, I told my P&G boss then that I wanted to dedicate myself to the country, and I quietly underwent the many stages of examination.
It wasn’t easy and most of the applicants were international relations (IR) students. But I found out from the Ministry’s Secretary General, Ambassador Abdul Irsan, that despite my modest IR multiple choice questions’ results, my written essay was quite impressive as I suggested a foreign policy to escape the 1998 Asian economic crisis based on macro and micro economic theory.
When I received the notification letter to begin diplomatic training, I decided to surprise my father by faxing it to the Embassy.
My desire to join the diplomatic corps was also inspired by my great uncle Adam Malik, who was former Foreign Minister and also Vice President of Indonesia in the late 60s to the early 80s. Despite the crisis in 1967, he pioneered the establishment of the regional forum ASEAN and served as Indonesia’s only President of the UN General Assembly in 1971.
Both these figures served during difficult times in Indonesia. It is truly my hope that I can play my part in serving my country.
Tell me about your educational background. How did you prepare yourself to be a career diplomat?
Hon. Andre Siregar: I completed an Arts degree in Economics at Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand in 1994, later on a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), and also a Master’s in Diplomacy and Trade (MDT) at Monash University Melbourne, Australia in 1996 and 2000, respectively.
Currently I am working on a PhD in research on Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum and Indonesia’s diplomacy on Indo Pacific at the Law School at Charles Darwin University, Australia.
All these subjects helped me in understanding geo-economics and also equipped me with communications and interpreting skills. From this background, the biggest impact that has had on my career as a diplomat was being assigned as interpreter for Presidents Megawati Soekarno Putri, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Joko Widodo (from 2002-2014). There I witnessed discussions between Indonesian presidents with world leaders including US President George Bush Jr, and Barack Obama, Presidents Vladimir Putin (Russia), RecepT. Erdogan (Turkey), Xi Jinping, Hu Jintao (PRC) Asif Ali Zardari Pakistan; Prime Ministers John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott (Australia), and many other leaders during G20, APEC, ASEAN and UN Summits.
From the education and experience, I gained perspective and an abundance of knowledge of behind the scenes discussions in multilateral diplomacy and summit diplomacy and how to recognize types of leadership for different conditions.
How long have you been in the United States? What other assignments have you had?
Hon. Andre Siregar: I have been in Houston for about a year now. But in total I have now lived in the US for five years. My third child was born in New York some fourteen years ago.
With regards to my diplomatic assignments, I started off as a UN observer in the East Timor Popular Consultation in 1999; later on I was assigned to the Indonesian Mission to the UN Headquarters in New York (2004-2008); and recently I was Indonesia’s Consul in Darwin, Australia (2014-2018).
Throughout my career, I have been privileged to serve in the Multilateral Cooperation division, the Asia Pacific Africa Division, and also the President’s office for International Relations as interpreter.
In that time, I have attended or led the Indonesian delegation and sometimes chaired various multilateral and regional meetings at the UN General Assembly and UN Security Council, G20, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), Southwest Pacific Dialogue (SwPD), Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI-CFF) to name a few.
What are some of your goals during your tenure for Houston’s relationship with Indonesia?
In the first year of my assignment here in Houston, I have been privileged to explore different goals and projects to further develop a stronger relationship between Houston and Indonesia.
I am proud to mention that during my first ten months in Houston, we have been privileged to be visited by the Foreign Minister and also the Energy Minister and various vice Ministers, and Chiefs of national Agencies to explore deeper collaborations with our U.S. counterparts.
For instance, during the visit of our Minister of Foreign Affairs, we achieved a collaboration between Baylor College of Medicine and BioFarma to develop a vaccine against the Covid-19. Our Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources alongside Pertamina (our government-owned oil and energy enterprise), succeeded in signing an agreement with ExxonMobil.
I am also privileged to continue the Consulate General’s community building role with the Indonesian community since 1982, which in that time many community leaders have contributed in deepening Indonesian American people to people relations. Amongst the close partners today that I work closely with are the Indonesian American Chambers of Commerce for Southeast Central USA (IACC-SCU), the Indonesian Women’s Entrepreneurs Network(IWEN), Indonesian American Muslim Community(IAMC), Voice of Indonesia Florida (ViDa)and many more.
Being the worlds largest Muslim population, I am proud to see the Indonesians in Houston, and they have also served as an inspiration to Muslims back in Indonesia.
I have also encouraged our Indonesian diaspora to contribute to our economic recovery by empowering Indonesian small businesses and the small businesses here, as the majority of our diaspora here are professionals.
A special interest for me being posted in Houston is to cherish the US Indonesian relations where we share a strong historical bond when the USS Houston fought bravely in the Sunda Strait in 1942. The USS Houston outnumbered by Japanese destroyers took four torpedoes before rolling over and sinking. Of the 1061 crew, only 368 survived and were taken prisoner. In 2022, we commemorate 80 years of the battle of the Sunda Strait of the USS Houston in which both Americans and Indonesians fought together to defend freedom.
COVID 19 has had a dramatic impact on all countries. How has the Pandemic affected your country and its business affiliations?
The pandemic has affected Indonesia’s economy and its business affiliations but also has encouraged people to expand their businesses into the digital world.
Government has taken important steps through its strategic policies. In the field of fiscal, budget adjustment has been performed to maintain the progress of economy and social welfare, and in the field of health has been focused to support health services including access to the vaccine.
Indonesia is aiming to ensure that 70% of Indonesia’s population is vaccinated by mid 2022.
What are some issues facing Indonesia today?
As the world’s largest archipelago in the world, with 17 thousand islands covering 5 million square kilometers (or 3.1 million square miles), located between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, Indonesia through ASEAN has played an active role in promoting growth and regional stability. To this end, forging cooperation in the Indo Pacific region is crucial.
While currently being the world’s 16th largest economy, Indonesia is projected to be the world’s fourth largest economy in 2045, or growing its economy to 11 trillion dollars in the next twenty-five years.
In moving towards this goal, the government has announced the relocation of Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to east Kalimantan, in the new city of Nusantara. It will be a vibrant, eco friendly, and green city
Is there anything we have not discussed that you would like to mention?
This year, Indonesia is chairing G20. Houston, Texas has many important players that can contribute to global goals of the G20, especially under Indonesia’s priorities areas, which are collaborating for better global health, infrastructure, cooperations in energy transition, and facilitating digital transformation.
The Consulate seeks to engage current and new partners in Houston to be part of the G20 agenda and also to be a strategic partner toward 2045.
The Indonesian Consulate in Houston has always had many events and programs. What do you have coming up that might be of interest to our readers?
Absolutely, we place a great deal of importance on promoting our culture to the Houston community through events. We also have a large Indonesian community as our Consulate covers 10 states namely Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas plus Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.
Therefore, we like to invite and gather many Indonesian communities from all these states to help up promote our country.
Despite the pandemic a lot of our events are online and hybrid. This virtual platform has provided the chance to connect with local friends with friends in Indonesia.
Amongst those events held in Texas and in other states were included the Women’s Day, Indonesian National Day Reception, Batik Writing workshop, and traditional Yogyakarta Wedding Ceremony.
Just recently we held a special culinary event entitled “A Glimpse of Yogyakarta” featuring a well-known and respected chef from Yogyakarta palace, Chef Sumartoyo.
I am proud to have welcomed the Editor in Chief of iF Magazine to many of the above events.
We will be participating at the South by Southwest (SXSW) virtually in March, involving several promising Indonesian startups and at the Dallas Travel and Adventure Show in April. Indonesia is open for visitors, therefore we would like to welcome people from Houston to visit Indonesia.
Insha Allah we will be hosting many more events in the near future and we look forward to welcoming many many more friends in Houston.
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