Issue 10 - Fulcrum of the Indo-Pacific
By Gordon Flake from Perth USAsia Centre | 13 Oct 2017
Over the winter school holidays I travelled with my family north in Western Australia to the incomparable Ningaloo Reef. Along the way we visited the Western Australian Museum in the regional city Geraldton which has as its central exhibit a magnificent stone portico recovered from the wreck of the Batavia, a Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) ship lost in 1629 while sailing from the Netherlands to what is now known as Jakarta. The portico was intended to grace the fort of the new Dutch capital which was itself named Batavia before it was sunk with the ship on reefs surrounding the nearby Abrolhos Islands. The story of this ill-fated pride of the VOC captivated my attention and I purchased and read the book by the same name Batavia by renowned author Peter Fitzsimons. To the relief of the many friends whom I have tormented with the details of a tale that is equal parts harrowing and heroic, I will not recount the details here, but urge you explore the story further. For those of you in the Perth area who are not game to make the five hour drive up the Indian Ocean Drive to Geraldton, the WA Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle has a replica of the portico and a massive piece of the Batavia’s stern in a captivating exhibit that will transport you back 400 years. For those of you over-East or over-seas this is but one more reason to visit Western Australia and our famed “Shipwreck Coast”.
As gripping as the tale of the ship Batavia may be, the story and trajectory of the city of Batavia is more captivating still. The recorded history of the capital city of Indonesia which is now known as Jakarta can be traced back to at least the 4th Century AD. The Dutch started construction on what would be the capital of the then Dutch East Indies on the ruins of the razed city of Jayakarta nearly 400 year ago in 1619 and the city was known as Batavia for over 300 years until it was renamed Jakarta in 1949 following Indonesian Independence. During most of this period, the city was the centre of the VOC’s sprawling trading network in Asia and an early hub in what we today term the Indo-Pacific.
Depending on methodology, greater-Jakarta is today not merely a trading hub, but ranks as the second most populous urban area in the world with over 30 million residents. It falls behind only the Tokyo-Yokahama urban area with over 37 million residents. A report released by PwC this year forecast that by 2050 Indonesia will be the 4th largest economy in the world and demographers estimate that Indonesia’s population will swell to over 320 million in that same period. Inspired in part by the implications of these developments, the Perth USAsia Centre has convened an Australia-Indonesia Working Group of academic, business, and government leaders with a particular focus on the trade, investment and broader economic relationship between Australia and its closest neighbour. The core conclusion of our effort was that while both countries can and should do much to expand a bilateral economic relationship which pales in comparison to the more vibrant political, military, and cultural ties between neighbours, the primary onus rests upon Australia to forge deeper and more meaningful ties with Indonesia while the two economies are at relative parity. A copy of some of the key takeaways from our Working Group deliberations including specific recommendations can be found here. The Perth USAsia Centre was pleased to release its working group report at a joint program recently with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Jakarta.
The Maritime Archaeology shipwreck database contains records for over 1650 Western Australian shipwrecks, many of the most prominent of which represent early pioneers of the Indo-Pacific making their way across the Indian Ocean and up to Indonesia. The oceans remain dangerous and unpredictable, but mercifully modern technology has improved on the historic limitations of celestial navigation with its difficulties in determining longitude. That challenge was at least partially responsible for many of the shipwrecks as evidenced by those unfortunate souls who after riding the roaring 40s across the Indian Ocean miscalculated their position and turned North too. Those that attended the In The Zone: The Blue Zone conference earlier this month know all to well the challenges facing modern day maritime enthusiasts. We heard from more than 35 speakers on topics including defence, fishing, pollution, modern slavery, marine parks, energy, innovation and aquaculture and photos of the event can be found on our website.
Today, Australia and Indonesia share the fulcrum point of an emerging Indo-Pacific region and the potential for cooperation for these two nations linked by maritime history has never been better.
Professor L. Gordon Flake is the CEO of the Perth USAsia Centre
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