Had President Barack Obama not canceled his Southeast Asian tour, he would have touched down in Indonesia today for his third visit to the country as president. With Indonesia's July 2014 presidential election fast approaching, it is uncertain whether he will visit the country again with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as his counterpart. Nevertheless, Obama and Yudhoyono can congratulate themselves on having overseen a blossoming partnership.
Since the two leaders signed a Comprehensive Partnership Agreement during Obama’s first visit in 2010, significant progress has been made to institutionalize cooperation and consultation between their governments. The agreement created a joint commission structure that ensures annual meetings between the U.S. secretary of state and the Indonesian foreign minister to review work in six working groups established to support the joint commission. While some parts of the two governments already had well-established forums for consultation before 2010, such as in defense and trade, working groups in areas such as education and civil society have significantly expanded the breadth of cooperation.
The broadening and deepening of ties between the governments of the world's third- and fourth-largest countries is entirely appropriate, especially given their closely aligned global interests. They share similar visions for a rules-based international order in the Asia-Pacific; each seeks to export democratic values and assist countries making democratic transitions; and both have agreed to the same broad trade policy principles as G-20 members. More immediately, Indonesia's emergence as the de facto leader of ASEAN, and ASEAN's development into a fulcrum of strategic competition in Asia, make engaging Indonesia critical for overall U.S. policy in Asia.