Pasqual Gorriz

Why Indonesia Needs to Expand its Assistance to Lebanon

A huge explosion took place in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 4th. It has been reported that the explosion came from a warehouse that stored 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate. The chemical had been stored in the warehouse for the past six years.

Officials did not reveal the cause of the blast, but a security source and media reports asserted that it was started by welding work being carried out in the warehouse.

Lebanon’s head of public security said the explosives were confiscated from a ship several years ago. 180 people died from the explosion, while around 6,000 people were wounded.

Indonesia has sent its sympathies and condolences following the tragedy.

Moreover, the Indonesian government has ordered its military personnel in Lebanon, who are part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), to help evacuate some of the victims of the explosion. An ambulance unit together with members of the Level 2 Hospital Task Force were deployed to assist in the handling and evacuation of victims.

But more needs to be done. Indonesia should expand its assistance to Lebanon. This is for two main reasons.

Good ties

The first reason is to maintain ties with one of Indonesia’s closest partners in the Middle East.

As the Indonesian ambassador to Lebanon recently affirmed, Indonesia has maintained warm ties with Lebanon since Indonesia was granted independence in the 1940s. Besides the fact that Lebanon was one of the first countries to acknowledge Indonesia’s independence, the two countries’ shared stances and efforts on some political issues in the Middle East such as regional stability and the Palestinian cause has helped strengthen both nations’ ties.

Relations have also been strengthened through the establishment of the Indonesian embassy in Beirut and the Lebanese embassy in Jakarta.

Trade and investment have been at the heart of Indonesian-Lebanon ties. This is true after the two countries signed an economic, technical, and scientific agreement in 1999.

Trade between Jakarta and Beirut is coloured with a surplus on the side of Indonesia, where the latter’s exports to Lebanon are higher than its imports. For example, between January and November 2018, total trade between Indonesia and Lebanon reached $100 million with $94 million being the former’s exports to the latter.

In terms of investments, Lebanon’s total FDI in Indonesia until 2017 amounted to $32 million, distributed in several industrial and service sectors, especially cafes, resorts, chemical industry, and furniture.

Although due to political instability in Lebanon this economic relationship has faced some turbulences, both nations have exerted efforts to maintain ties. Indonesia, for example, participates in various economic exhibitions and seminars in Lebanon, and vice-versa.

This has also been supported by the establishment of the Indonesia-Lebanon Forum for Friendship and Cooperation, aimed at strengthening Jakarta-Beirut ties, particularly in the economic, educational, social, and cultural sectors.

The Indonesian embassy in Beirut has also collaborated with the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce to improve both countries’ economic relations. One example was the holding of an economic seminar entitled “Invest and Trade with Indonesia” in 2008.

Military cooperation is another important aspect of Jakarta-Beirut ties, which has been made possible by Indonesia’s participation in UNIFIL.

UNIFIL was formed by the UN Security Council in 1978 following the Israeli-Lebanese war.

Indonesia has a significant role in UNIFIL. In fact, Indonesia has the largest number of troops with 1,290 personnel.

These troops have participated in several crucial events, including the 2006 Lebanese war, as well as helping address the issue of Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Recently, both countries have also pledged to strengthen their defense ties.

Social, cultural, and sports relations are also strong with some Indonesian students studying in Lebanon.

Looking at these, expanding its assistance to Lebanon would help maintain its ties with one of its closest partners.

With growing U.S.-China tensions, Indonesia needs to seek partners elsewhere.

China-U.S. tensions have encouraged several Southeast Asian countries, including Indonesia, to reconsider their ties with the two great powers and to try to lessen their reliance on them by strengthening ties with non-traditional partners.

For Indonesia, Lebanon could be one of these options.

Besides lucrative investment opportunities, Lebanon offers Indonesia a way to access consumer markets for its exports.

Despite Lebanon’s turmoil, the country’s economy is growing. From just 0.8% in 2015, Lebanon’s economy was finally able to grow to 2.5% in 2017. This achievement is far above the prediction of the World Bank which estimated that the Lebanese economy would only grow by 1.5% in the same period.

Lebanon’s growing market can, therefore, be an opportunity for Indonesia.

In addition, Lebanon could also serve as a gateway for Indonesia to strengthen political and economic cooperation with other Middle Eastern countries.

Given the long and strong ties between Indonesia and Jakarta, as well as the prospects available for future engagements in the midst of growing U.S.-China tensions, it is thus imperative for Indonesia to expand its assistance to Lebanon.

Such assistance can be in the form of humanitarian aid, as other countries have pledged to deliver.