For Swiss Ambassador Heinz Walker-Nederkoorn, his country and Indonesia may be continents apart, but the two share something important in common: Unity in diversity.
“Our most specific common ground is unity in diversity,” Walker-Nederkoorn told the Jakarta Globe as his country marked its National Day on Wednesday, as well as 60 years of diplomatic relations with Indonesia.
Just like Indonesia with its plethora of islands, tribes and languages, Switzerland is a country of diversity, where four different languages are spoken including three major languages — German, French, Italian — and Rumantsch, which is derived from vulgar Latin.
“Diversity is a strength and not a weakness. And it can be the basis for a national identity,” Walker-Nederkoorn said, adding that both Indonesia and Switzerland had been able to prove this to the world.
He said that it was the respect of diversity that also marked the decision-making process in his country just as here in Indonesia.
“It is one reason why for us, seeking a consensus is important,” he said, adding that finding a good compromise, a win-win solution, was very often “the way to solve things.”
This approach, he said, was reflected in his country’s international relations, including with Indonesia.
A win-win solution was also reflected in the nature of the interest shown by Swiss companies in Indonesia. Most Swiss companies in Indonesia, he said, have long-term interest in the country, always planning for the long term, not just looking to make a quick profit and then leave the country.
“The longer your interest is in a country, the stronger is your interest for a win-win game,” Walker-Nederkoorn said.
Looking back at 60 years of bilateral relations, Walker-Nederkoorn said that although they were not marked by important milestones, relations have always been friendly.
“It has been rather an organic development of a relationship between the two countries,” he said, with a continuous ongoing deepening and widening of ties between the nations.
In the latest major development, the heads of state of the two countries agreed in 2010 to launch negotiations on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The ambassador said that both countries were working for a conclusion of the negotiations in 2013.
He said he believed the agreement would provide a boost in the economic relations, trade and investment between the two countries.
Swiss direct investment in Indonesia stood at a mere 800 million Swiss francs ($817 million). However, by 2010 that amount had grown to more than 7 billion Swiss francs that were invested in Indonesia by Swiss companies, putting Indonesia in fourth place in Asia for Swiss investment.
Switzerland’s exports to Indonesia, mostly industrial machinery, were at 439.7 million Swiss francs in 2011 while its imports from Indonesia stood at 162.6 million Swiss francs, consisting mostly of textile, garments, and footwear.
Some 70 Swiss companies operate in the country, providing employment to some 45,000 Indonesians and most, the ambassador said, investing with long-term perspectives.
“Indonesia is one of the eight priority economies” for Switzerland, Walker-Nederkoorn said, adding that half of the Swiss budget for economic cooperation was earmarked for those eight priority countries, chosen for their long-term potentials.
Swiss cooperation with Indonesia, he said, is aimed at improving economic governance by helping to create a conducive business environment and a good investment climate.
It is also aimed at increasing the competitiveness of the economy and its increased integration with international trade, and to reduce environmental damage and support actions to mitigate climate change.
But the Swiss government was not alone in achieving these goals. Some 70 Swiss companies operate or have representative offices in the country, providing employment for Indonesians.
Another area where potential for growth was substantial was in tourism. He said that the number of Indonesian visitors to Switzerland was continuously on the rise.
In 2011, there were some 50,000 Indonesian visitors to his country, he said, adding that it represented a 45 percent increase over the previous year.
“And although it will not necessarily increase by 45 percent, the number is likely to increase every year” he said.