A general view of Samboja in Kutai Kartanegara, the proposed location for the new capital city of Indonesia in East Kalimantan. EPA PIC

INDONESIAN President Joko Widodo made a bold decision when he announced on Aug 16 “to move the country’s capital from Jakarta, on the crowded island of Java, to Kalimantan on the island of Borneo”.

On Sept 4, he gave a glimpse of his strategic vision by saying that the new Indonesian capital would “foster development of technology startups and a digitised manufacturing sector”.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had embarked on an almost similar move for Malaysia in 1993 when his administration chose a site near Kuala Lumpur International Airport to build Malaysia’s new administrative capital known as Putrajaya.

Today, Putrajaya, which “shares its border with Cyberjaya, or Malaysia’s Silicon Valley, is part of the Multimedia Super Corridor which stretches from the city of Kuala Lumpur to KLIA.

Jokowi’s latest decision on Kalimantan could be regarded as a strategic game-changer to transform Indonesia’s Borneo into a new growth centre.

This move is also perceived as Jokowi’s newest endeavour to enhance Indonesia’s concept of Global Maritime Fulcrum, introduced in 2014, aimed at turning Indonesia “into a global maritime hub”.

Implicitly, it is also a strategy of creating a new corridor of connectivity in Borneo, the biggest island in the Nusantara Archipelago and the third largest island in the world, which is geographically shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei; three Muslim Asean member states.

Kalimantan, with a population of 16 million, occupies 544,150 sq kilometres of Borneo; Malaysia’s Sabah and Sarawak, with a population of 6.7 million, jointly control 198,082 sq kilometres; and Brunei with 434,017 people rules 5,765 sq kilometres of the island.

Associate Professor Changyong Zhang, of Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Business, who wrote in a local media on March 21, 2017, made the following observation about Borneo: “It has been recognised that the Asia-Pacific will be among the fastest growing regions in coming decades. Thus, there is opportunity for Borneo to establish more sustainable development and for the respective governments (Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei) to work collaboratively to convert the island into a well-balanced and mutually-complemented community.”

He also envisioned that “… there would, for instance, be a regional financial centre, one or two ports among the busiest in Asia-Pacific, and one or two Silicon Valleys of Borneo”.

This shows Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei will witness increased connectivity, convergence and interdependency on Borneo Island, either by way of government-to-government arrangements or on the basis of private initiatives.

It is also not impossible if this inter-state cooperation might be facilitated by an Asean-led mechanism initiated by the three Asean member states occupying Borneo Island.

Currently, Asean has a cooperation framework known as BIMP-EAGA, or the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asia Growth Area, established on March 26, 1994; to improve “welfare and economic growth of the people in the border areas of the BIMP-EAGA countries”.

This sub-regional connectivity centre was also set up “to support the realisation of regional connectivity in the Asean region as embodied in the Asean Master Plan on Connectivity”.

The BIMP-EAGA clustered its focus into six strategic pillars: connectivity; food basket; tourism; environment; trade and investment facilitation; and socio-cultural and education.

The operationalisation of these pillars is enhanced by the setting up of clusters on natural resources development, chaired by Indonesia; on transport, infrastructure, and information, communication and technology development, chaired by Brunei; on joint tourism development, chaired by Malaysia; and on small and medium enterprises development, chaired by the Philippines. Hence, although BIMP-EAGA is an Asean mechanism for sub-regional socio-economic cooperation in maritime Southeast Asia, it could also form the basis of a more focused cooperation in the new Borneo Connectivity Corridor.

Ultimately, this emerging region could also be transformed into the first milestone of the Asean Economic Community “aimed at being a highly competitive economic region with equitable economic development”.

Based on the above, it is appropriate for Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei to start envisioning the nature of this potential cooperation to enable them to play catalytic and proactive roles in charting the shared prosperity programmes on Borneo Island.

More strategically, it would be very impactful if Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei formulate their future interdependency framework based on the spirit of Nusantaraism under the auspices of Asean or through another Asean-related mechanism.

The writer is a student of strategic and security studies, and was a member of parliament for Parit Sulong, Johor, 1990-2003

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