Indonesians Eagerly Await Visit From Obama

NPR's Robert Siegel speaks with Endy Bayuni, senior editor of the Jakarta Post, about President Obama's upcoming trip to Indonesia — the second stop on his Asia trip. The country has been eagerly awaiting a visit by the president, who spent four years of his childhood there. Bayuni says the U.S.-Indonesia relationship has broadened beyond counterterrorism measures post-Sept. 11.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

After three days of private meetings, public addresses and a bit of dancing, President Obama wrapped up his visit to India today with a state dinner in his honor.

President BARACK OBAMA: I propose a toast, knowing that our ties subsist because they are not of iron or steel or even of gold, but of the silken cords of the human spirit. Cheers.

BLOCK: Tomorrow morning, President Obama heads for the next stop on his 10-day tour of Asia, Indonesia.

SIEGEL: The country, of course, played a special role in the president's life. He spent four years of his childhood there. And since his election two years ago, there has been much anticipation among Indonesians in hope that Mr. Obama's personal ties to the country would bear fruit.

Here to talk about the mood in Indonesia, as the visit nears, is Endy Bayuni, who is senior editor of the Jakarta Post.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. ENDY BAYUNI (Senior Editor, Jakarta Post): Thank you.

SIEGEL: And this year already, President Obama has had to scrap two trips to Indonesia - first so that he could focus on healthcare, and later because of the Gulf oil spill. Has that dampened Indonesians' excitement about this visit?

Mr. BAYUNI: It has, indeed. You know, there was so much excitement when he was elected the first time in 2008, and the anticipation was that he was going to come to Indonesia, you know, soon after that. And I think Indonesians waited and waited, still at the end when he actually finally arrives in Jakarta, people will still welcome him that, you know, precisely because of his connection with Indonesia.

SIEGEL: The island of Bali was the scene of one of the most devastating post-9/11 terrorist attacks by a group related in some way to al-Qaida. Is counterterrorism high on the U.S.-Indonesian agenda?

Mr. BAYUNI: Well, I think it was during the President Bush time. But I think the relationship has since broadened. So of course, the two leaders will be talking about counterterrorism, but there will be other agenda which are probably equally important. Some of the areas include what they call the soft power from the United States; meaning assistance in the economy, assistance in promoting education and health care in the country. And lately, of course, they also include the resumption of the military relationship between Indonesia and the United States.

SIEGEL: Who are the protesters who were staging demonstrations against this visit? What's their agenda?

Mr. BAYUNI: Yes, there was a protest in one of the islands yesterday. There are plans to protest a bigger one in Jakarta. These are mostly radical Islamic groups. These are small. They do not represent the mainstream Muslims in Indonesia. But they will come out in numbers and they will be very vocal, trying to steal the show.

But just on the eve of President Obama's visit, a group of leaders from mainstream Muslim organizations, they came out with a statement that the majority of Muslims, which they represent, welcome President Obama's visit because he is a friend of the country.

SIEGEL: Indonesians will sometimes refer to Barack Obama as an Anak Menteng. What does that mean?

Mr. BAYUNI: It means the Menteng boy.

SIEGEL: The Menteng boy.

Mr. BAYUNI: Yeah. Menteng is a very posh district in Jakarta, and he went to school there. But he never actually resided in the Menteng area. He corrected that himself.

SIEGEL: I see. This would be like someone being called Beverly Hills kid or something, and pointing out that he really didn't grow up in Beverly Hills.

Mr. BAYUNI: Yeah. Like a Manhattan kid but he was actually living in, I don't know, in Queens or Bronx, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Mr. Bayuni, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. BAYUNI: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Endy Bayuni, speaking to us from Jakarta where he is senior editor of the Jakarta Post.

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