Indonesian and German relations have been established for more than 500 years. It was covered in the book “Sie kamen als Forscher und Ärzte: 500 Jahre deutsch-indonesische Medizingeschichte”, (in German “They Come as Researchers and Doctors: 500 Years of History of German-Indonesian Relations in Medicine”).
The history of German-Indonesian relations can be seen from the maritime relations carried out by German explorer, Balthasar Sprenger who wrote about Indonesia in 1509. Adolf Bastian (1826-1905), an ethnology expert from Germany was an expert who put forward the term “Indonesia” for the first time. German painting artists, Walter Spies (1895-1942) who lived in Indonesia several years, especially Yogyakarta and Bali, in 1923-1939 were known as the pioneers of art modernization in Java and Bali. Long before its independence, the term Indonesia, which is the name of the country, was also popularized by a German, Adolf Bastian who wrote in his report the “Indies” which is connected with the Greek word “nesus” which means island
In addition, German-Indonesian trade relations can be traced since the 19th century. Seven years after Siemens was founded in Germany in 1854, the Siemens House was operated in Surabaya. In the cultural aspect, Indonesian painter Raden Saleh (1807-1880) significantly perpetuated the development of art in Dresden,
Diplomatic Relations between Indonesia and Germany was officially established in 1952 followed by the opening of German Embassy in Jakarta in the same year. It is the longest friendship relations that Germany has with countries outside Europe. The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia was officially opened in Bonn in 1954. The Indonesian Government also opened an Embassy in East Germany in 1976. Bilateral relations between Indonesia and West Germany as well as East Germany have developed ever since in various sectors of cooperation
Relations between Germany and Indonesia as a new modern-state, especially during President Sukarno’s era were already characterized by intensive trade relations. In this regard, tobacco was Indonesia’s number one export commodity to Germany. As for Indonesia, West Germany at that time played an important role as a supplier of varieties of high-tech products such as locomotives, automotives and other industrial products. Indonesia-German trade continued to grow in this line until 1966. Both countries had also signed the Indonesian-German Aviation Cooperation Agreement in Bonn in 1967 and still in President Sukarno’s era, Karl Heinrich Lübke, the second President of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1959 to 1969 paid a State Visit to Indonesia in 1963.
During the administration of President Suharto relations between Indonesia and Germany entered into a new phase. Numerous visits by senior officials were exchanged during this New Order era. An early step in this direction was marked by the visit of Foreign Minister Adam Malik in Bonn on 6 November 1967 to discuss the improvement of cooperation between the two countries.
On the following year, Head of the West German Parliemant, E. Gerstenmeier, visited Indonesia with a delegation to discuss the enhancement of bilateral relations. Both countries later signed an agreement on Foreign Investment Assurances in 1968. The State Minister for Economy, Finance and Industry visited Bonn in 1969 with the view to strengthen cooperation in the fields of economyand education. The number of high-level visits and meetings on both sides continued to climb over the years.
The relations between the two countries intensified during the new order era. Close relations between President Suharto and Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl became the key factor of close relations between the two countries. Chancellor Kohl visited Indonesia four times, respectively in 1983, 1988, 1993 and 1996.
Visits by the German Chancellor were amplified by the visit of the German President Karl Carstens (1979-1984) to Indonesia in 1984. Meanwhile, President Suharto conducted three official visits to Germany, respectively in 1970, 1991 and 1995. Besides, there were other numerous visits by senior officials from both sides, including ministers, head and members of parliaments as well as trade missions.
The 1997/1998 economic crisis that struck Asia, including Indonesia, has shifted the pattern of Indonesian-German relations. The crisis threw Indonesian economy into a downward spin, eventually resulting in the collapse of the New Order regime under President Suharto. At the same time, there was a transition of leadership from Helmut Kohl to Gerhard Schröder. Germany’s new administration placed strong emphasis on human rights, democracy and environment in the framework of cooperation with other countries.
Indonesia’s third President, B.J. Habibie, has emotional bond to Germany. Relations between President Habibie and Chancellor Schröder progressed well due to President Habibie’s commitment to create a more democratic Indonesia and to solve human rights issues more energetically.
The transfer of leadership from President B.J. Habibie to President K.H. Abdurrahman Wahid, (also known as Gus Dur) did not alter the strong relations between the two countries. Indonesian reform efforts focused on enforcement of human rights, rule of law and democracy have become strong modalities for Indonesia to seek foreign support, including from Germany. The German Government under Chancellor Schröder positively took note of the democratic changes in Indonesia. In this light, President K.H. Abdurrahman Wahid visited Bonn and Berlin in the year 2000 accompanied by a delegation composed of Indonesian entrepreneurs. President K.H. Abdurrahman Wahid official state visit further intensified the well-established relations.
The relations between the two countries continued to deepen at the time when Megawati Soekarnoputri was elected as Indonesian President to replace K.H. Abdurrahman Wahid. The efforts to improve relations between Indonesia and Germany undertaken by her predecessor during the early phase of the reform era were carried on by the President Megawati’s administration.
Despite of her short 3-year term as President, Megawati Soekarnoputri managed to hold two meetings with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder reiterated the German Government’s commitment to support the stability and the territorial integrity of Indonesia. He welcomed the Indonesian efforts in finding solutions for internal conflicts through dialogue and negotiation. He also welcomed the achievement of Aceh reconciliation signed in Geneva in 2002. Germany’s support given to Indonesia is highly appreciated. It is also a point of departure for Germany’s role in supporting the reform process in Indonesia.
Germany also assisted Indonesia in the implementation of regional autonomy, good governance and the formulation of regulations on politics and election in Indonesia. The flourishing democracy in Indonesia has convinced Germany to make commitments in assisting Indonesia’s progress in various fields. Within the framework to assist the reform efforts in Indonesia, the German Government allocates funds for annual aid. In 2002, for instance, the German Government provided €28.5 million to assist Indonesia in its reform efforts for the economy, health and transportation sectors. Germany also provided aid to enhance the Indonesian economy. Furthermore, the German Government also provided debt-swap facilities to ease Indonesian debt burden in the form of funding education, health, forestry and environment programs.
The next summit meeting took place in 2009 when President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono conducted a state visit to Germany. During the said visit, President Yudhoyono met with the Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as with the Federal President Horst Köhler. Agreements were reached on several issues and both countries reiterated their commitments to enhance their bilateral relations. Moreover, both countries agreed to establish a consultation at the level of a Senior Official Meeting (SOM) which regularly discussed the developments of cooperation between the two countries in various fields in order to facilitate the relations.
The visit by the Federal President Christian Wulff from 30 November – 2 December 2011 added another momentum to the ties between the two countries approaching the 60th anniversary of bilateral relations between Indonesia and Germany to a more comprehensive and strategic level. President Yudhoyono used the said occasion to invite Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel to visit Indonesia in 2012 within the framework of the 60th anniversary celebratory events.