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By Mikhail Tsyganov from Lombok (Indonesia)

Last year over 20 million Russians went abroad for both leisure and business trips. But only about half a million (practically all of them tourists) reached Southeast Asia (mostly Thailand, but also Malaysia and Vietnam). Why not Indonesia would become clearer later, but still the number is impressive (providing up to 20% of guests at some of the best Bali hotels) and growing fast.
"The number of Russian tourists skyrocketed by 400% at the first quarter of this year, as against the initial months of 2006," Marc Denton, general manager of The Oberoi (Lombok's only luxury hotel), told the author.

So one would think that when former World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Executive Board Chairman and current Russian Federal Tourism Agency Director (Russian analogue for the Minister of tourism) Vladimir Strjalkovski came to Lombok and offered to personally present any potential projects in the island's tourism industry to Russian investors, local authorities would grab upon such an opportunity immediately.

Russia these days is bursting with money, Moscow has become the most expensive city in the world, and Russian companies are searching for cheaper places to invest. The mating seemed ideal, except…

A car sent to pick up Mr. Strjalkovski for a visit to Nusa Tenggara Barat Province Governor Drs. H. Lalu Serinata came about an hour late. Those who live in Indonesia long enough know about "jam karet" ("time is rubber"), but one would hardly except the same understanding from a visiting Russian minister.

Then it has turned out that the head of NTB Province culture and tourism agency is not present at all.

"He's in Toraja (a region on Sulawesi island)", kind of explained the Governor to the author.

Well, let’s wait and see how many investors he would bring from there…

Last but not the least: after a joint viewing of a video (that could be equally well watched by Mr. Strjalkovski in Moscow) and an exchange of speeches Drs. H. Lalu Serinata left for some meeting. Leaving his perplexed guests (they also included Russian Ambassador to Indonesia Mr. Ivanov) in the office.

Before leaving the Governor said that booklets and other data on Lombok were prepared and would be distributed. This data also never came.

"Can you help to promote Lombok as a tourist destination in Russia?" I was asked by a waiter in my hotel. "And among investors - we really need them here".

"How can I?" I had to answer. "I have to write the truth. And the truth is that I have seen no interest from local authorities. No interest at all". 

And now to the better part of this story as I have some good news for AA readers. Mr. Strjalkovski has visited Lombok in his capacity as the chairman for Russia of the Russian-Indonesian Commission on

Trade, Economic and Technological Cooperation that held its meeting on the island on June 14-15.

The best news is that this is the only place I would mention military cooperation between the two countries. Don't get me wrong: it's developing fast and well. But it is already very well known as "Sukhoi", for example, has surely become one of the most popular brands in Indonesia.

And very few people know that excellent prospects are opening to Russian-Indonesian economic, scientific, technical and other partnership in many other areas. So many that it is simply impossible to enumerate all promising fields of bilateral partnership in this story.

"Our goal at this meeting was to make progress in every field of bilateral partnership," Vladimir Strjalkovski told the author.

Among top priorities mentioned military and civil technologies, aerospace R&D and industry, nuclear energy, oil and gas extraction and procession, mining, banking, and even culture and sport.

"An interesting and ambitious project," he said about the decision of the Indonesian government to build a nuclear plant in the over-populated Java.

"We hope Indonesia will be interested in Russian nuclear energy initiatives," he said.

"Russia is very interested in exporting to Indonesia its aircraft including civil, military and special-purpose craft. Russian Be-200 amphibious planes already proved their worth in last year’s forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan," he added.

"Partnership talks for oil extraction and processing, and for bauxite and other mineral mining have also made headway. A fishing partnership agreement is upcoming," Strjalkovsky said.

It is hard to overestimate the latter, with the vast water area of Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago.

"Indonesia often has no chance to use its huge seafood resources to the greatest possible effect because of expert and equipment shortages. So Russia is a welcome partner in both estimation and processing," he went on.

By the way, in his speech NTB Governor also mentioned the high potential of fishing in Nusa Tenggara Barat and neighboring provinces – typically quoting a study made in 70s by "a Japanese professor".
And there are also machine-building, with an emphasis on tractors, telehealth service, when a patient meets his physician on a PC monitor, which is indispensable in Indonesia, with its thousands of scattered islets, and certainly tourism.

"Russia has ability, and technology, and capability to make the world better to live in - for everybody, including Indonesia. And necessary resources as well," sums up Burhanuddin Abdullah, Bank Indonesia governor during a meeting with the author in Jakarta.

"Russia and Indonesia have a long history of collaboration in the past and this cooperation needs to be expanded in the future,” he concluded.
Expanded everywhere - including the open space.

State Minister for Research and Technology Kusmayanto Kadiman gave me an enthusiastic account of the Air Launch project, which envisages Russia’s 'Ruslan' jumbo jets taking off from Biak Island, close to the equator, with satellite-carrying rockets on board.

Earth rotation is the fastest on the equator, and the boosters will make their initial 10 km up on board the plane. All that reduces launch costs several-fold compared with the traditional use of land and sea launching pads.   

"I am convinced that the draft cooperation agreements which we are developing will be filled with important content," said Eddi Hariyadhi, director general of American and European Affairs of the Department of Foreign Affairs and head of the Indonesian part of the commission, in an interview with RIA Novosti.

"Very representative delegations from both countries to Lombok testify to both nations' interest in boosting cooperation," he emphasized.

Current Russian-Indonesian ties are characterized by a high level of political understanding, including the two nations’ successful interaction on the UN Security Council, of which Jakarta is now a nonpermanent member, believes Oleg Kabanov, deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department for Asia and ASEAN Affairs.

"Our countries have been close to each other politically for quite a while," Hariyadhi said, echoing his Russian colleague. "It is time we expanded this to the economy so that both countries can get the most out of our friendship."

Statistics confirm that this process is gaining momentum. The Russian Federal Customs Service estimates Russian-Indonesian commodity turnover last year at $607.2 million, up 10.1% on the 2005 level. This year, it has already reached $179.3 million in the first quarter, a 77% increase compared with the same period in 2006.
The author is the head of Russian RIA Novosti news agency Southeast Asian Bureau in Jakarta. His opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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