Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush set a standard for organizing aid with their response to the 2004 tsunami that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries, Indonesia's ambassador to the United States said Monday.
Ambassador Dino Djalal talked about the ex-presidents' effort following an address at the Clinton School of Public Service. He said their fundraising and efforts to keep the crisis in the public eye helped his country get the aid it needed. The United Nations has held up his country's Aceh province as a model for recovery, and he'd like Clinton and Bush to return "to see the fruits of their labor," Djalal said.
"It showed bipartisan support from America for tsunami rehabilitation and helped galvanize the international community," Djalal said.
Then-President George W. Bush named his father, a Republican, and Clinton, a Democrat, to lead the effort to raise money to help following the Dec. 26, 2004 disaster.
Djalal's speech focused on Indonesia's history since it became a democracy in 1988. The effort got off to a rough start. Djalal said the country, which has 270 ethnic groups amid its 17,000 islands, was viewed as "too big to fail and too messy to work."
But he said the majority Muslim nation was able to get its footing and, despite terror attacks from extremists, has prospered.
"We have found a way to connect democracy to development," Djalal said.
The country was under Dutch control until 1949, followed by about 40 years of authoritarian rule. One of the lingering trouble spots was Aceh, where a peace accord was reached in 2005, with elections there a year later.
The 40 or so people in the audience included former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who lived in Indonesia for years after leaving office in 1996 following his convictions in the Whitewater investigation. The convictions were later overturned.
Tucker asked Djalal about Indonesia's motto, "Out of many, one."
Djalal said Indonesia is dominated by the Javanese ethnic group, which comprises 50 percent of the population, but the country chose a Malay dialect, spoken by an ethnic minority, as its official language as a gesture of inclusiveness.
Indonesia has 245 million people and is the world's third largest democracy after India and the U.S.
Djalal said one of his goals is to increase the number of Indonesian students in the United States. He said 20 years ago, there were 14,000 Indonesians studying in the U.S. and none in China. Now, China has 8,500 Indonesian students and the U.S. has 7,500.
"This is my mission to reverse this," he said, adding that providing education for students from developing countries is a way for the U.S. "to invest in the world."
Djalal stressed that Indonesia does not have an Islamic government and began his talk by saying that Christmas and Easter are national holidays.