Hasjim Djalal – An accomplished diplomat

by Donny Syofyan, the Jakarta Post, April 21 2014

While Hasjim Djalal may not have the popular recognition achieved by Indonesia’s other top diplomats, the West Sumatran-born man played a critical role in establishing the nation’s territorial rights at sea.

Along with Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, who served as foreign minister and law minister under Soeharto, Hasjim was behind the ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982 — gaining recognition for the Indonesia’s interests, as set forth in the Juanda Declaration of 1957.

Prior to the declaration; the Celebes, Halmahera and Sunda seas had not been considered Indonesian territory. The declaration stated that the nation’s maritime limit would be drawn from straight baselines connecting the outermost points of the nation’s outermost islands.

As an expert in the law of sea, Hasjim played a major role in fighting for the declaration at the international level. A new biography of Hasjim, Patriot Negara Kepulauan (Patriot of an Archipelagic Nation) by Efri Yoni Baikoeni explores that struggle — and his decades of work at the negotiation table since.

Hasjim provides an excellent locus for understanding the importance of the Juanda Declaration and the UNCLOS. As Efri writes, while the Indonesian national concept of itself as a nusantara, or archipelago, was not initially recognized under international law, it has since become an integral part of the UNCLOS.

The convention integrated recognition of Indonesia’s land and maritime territory, bringing the nation’s territorial sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction from 2 million to 5.8 million square kilometers.

While valuable as a legal history, Efri’s book also offers an inspiring portrait of the development and career of an Indonesian diplomat.

Efri delves into Hasjim’s expertise in the customs, treaties and international agreements governing the sea and his role in the nation’s proactive diplomacy to defend its maritime rights.

In the book’s first part, “From Mountain Boy to Law of Sea Expert”, Efri provides a biography of Hasjim, a Minangkabau boy born in Ampang Gadang, about 6 kilometers from Bukittinggi, West Sumatra.

The Minangkabau people prize education as one of several ways to achieve success. Merantau (migration) or work as an entrepreneur are two other ways are also favored.

Hasjim stands squarely in this tradition, earning a master’s degree (when 25) and a doctorate (when 27) from the University of Virginia in the US.

Efri relates Hasjim as saying that his success in higher education cannot be separated from the ability of his teachers to instill discipline.

Hasjim states that he had once been slapped by an elementary school teacher named Bustami, for skipping school to play football. “If you want to go to school, do it. If you want to watch football, don’t do it during school hours,” Hasjim relates.

The next section, titled “Dissecting Contributions, Reaching for Wisdom”, tells how Hasjim represented Indonesia when the UNCLOS was ratified in 1982 and beyond.

In line with the idea of wisdom, the chapter describes how Hasjim helped negotiate maritime disputes outside Indonesia, such as the spat between Brunei and Malaysia and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands case between Japan and China.

The chapter becomes enthralling when Hasjim comments on Indonesia’s border disputes such as the Ambalat sea block, located off East Kalimantan and the Malaysian state of Sabah Ambalat; unresolved territorial questions between Indonesian and Singapore in the Malacca Strait and the tensions that rose when Brunei was named to ASEAN’s rotating chair.

Hasjim, however, admits in the book that a failure to reconcile these disputes within the region shows that the “ASEAN spirit” has perhaps faded. Malaysia’s desire to seek international arbitration of the Ambalat dispute in lieu of bilateral diplomacy conforms to the trend.

The book’s final chapter, “An Exemplary Figure and Life”, tells of how the boy from Sumatra conquered America, winning for himself the moniker of the “the first Indonesian student of the law of the sea”.

Hasjim remains an accomplished diplomat, serving as Indonesia’s ambassador to the United Nations (1981-1983), Canada (1983-1985), Germany (1990-1993) in addition to serving as a roving ambassador during president BJ Habibie’s administration.

The book, illustrated with more than 60 photos, also spares time for Hasjim’s family life, talking of his children, Dino Patti Djalal — himself a former Indonesian ambassador to the US noted for his out-of-the-box leadership, while his daughter Dini Djalal is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CNBC Asia Television, The Far Eastern Economic Review, The Jakarta Post and the Voice of America, among.

According to the book, Hasjim encouraged his children to be self reliant. “If you want your kids to be successful, let them welcome obstacles and adapt to things as the saying goes ‘di mana bumi dipijak disana langit dijunjung’.” The phrase translates roughly as “where the land steps, the sky is upheld”.

Patriot Negara Kepulauan
Efri Yoni Baikoeni
Pandu Aksara Publishing (2014)
374 pages

Note from AMINEF: Hasjim Djalal is a 1957 Fulbright program alum earning his graduate degree in Political Science from the University of Virginia. Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, whose name appears in the above, is also a Fulbright program alum who pursued his graduate program in Law at Harvard University in 1964.

Last Updated: Jun 21, 2017 @ 12:11 pm

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