Traditional sailing ship – #Sesparlu

As a maritime nation, Indonesia sees the benefit of cooperation among countries with similar interests in developing its maritime culture. One of such countries is Fiji. Both are developing archipelagic states and have great interests in developing marine-based economy. Historically, Fiji has been a partner of Indonesia in the Pacific. The signing of the bilateral agreement on development cooperation in Mei 2011, and exchange of high level visits between the two countries, are evidence of their good relations. However, the bilateral relations are thus far encompassing a broad spectrum of cooperation as with other countries. In fact, Indonesia and Fiji have the potential to make maritime issues their priority. The question is which area of maritime issue should Indonesia and Fiji focus on? This article argues that developing common maritime culture will provide a solid foundation for other bilateral cooperation.

What is maritime culture? In his speech, President Joko Widodo states that maritime culture is related to an identity as seafarer people. This is in line with the what Christer Westerdahl, an academician from Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who says “if you do not possess a population attuned to maritime preoccupations, even if a current population is residing at the sea shore, there is no maritime culture”. The key element is the preoccupation of the people with maritime issues.

How Indonesia and Fiji can develop their common maritime culture?

First option is to develop maritime economic relations as the basis for common marine culture between the two countries. A recent study by the Asian Development Bank gave the available information (focused on 2007) on the contribution of fishing/fisheries to GDP, exports, government revenue, and employment. The results can be summarized as:

  • Official estimates show that fishing in 2007 was responsible for 1.9 percent of Fiji’s GDP.
  • Exports of fishery products are about 9.1 percent of all exports.
  • Access fees paid by foreign fishing vessels represent 0.03 percent of all government revenue.
  • Jobs directly related to fisheries represent about 3.8 percent of the total number of jobs in Fiji (wage, salaried, self-employed).

The problem with economic relations they are frequently fluctuate and full of uncertainties, as they are also dependent on global economic downturn. The bilateral trade between Indonesia and Fiji has been decreasing by almost 2% annually for the past 5 years. The distance between Indonesia and Fiji and the fact that there is no direct connection between the two have made Indonesian products less competitive for Fiji.

The other option is the expand the foundation for stronger bilateral cooperation in other areas. In this regard, cooperation in developing maritime culture should be the primary focus. Fiji’s “look north policy” and engagement with Asia can be the starting point. Long history of people-to-people contacts through Melanesian brotherhood and technical assistance are also important elements. Indonesia has also granted visa waiver facility to Fijians. However, the effects of cultivating such cooperation tend to be long-term in nature. They require patience, consistency and perseverance from both sides.

 Nevertheless, in the long run the adoption of this second option by the two countries, will provide a solid foundation for the development of other areas of cooperation, including in marine economy.

Opportunities to build common maritime culture between Indonesia and Fiji

 Taking elements from the two options above, several areas of cooperation to develop common maritime culture between the two countries can be further explored, such as:

People-to-people contacts

Indonesia could continue provide scholarships for Fijians to study in marine academy and universities to study maritime related subjects. As part of the same Melanesian culture, Indonesia and Fiji could explore the idea to initiate maritime cultural festivals, involving other Pacific countries

Marine and fisheries

There is a window of opportunities for strengthening and expanding the cooperation between Indonesia and Fiji in marine and fisheries sector. The two ministers have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Marine and Fisheries Cooperation on 18 June 2014. Since Indonesia is more advanced in the field of aquaculture and considering the social condition of the people of Fiji, it is recommended that Indonesia could propose cooperation in the field of sustainable development aquaculture and coastal community empowerment and integrated coastal management.


The reciprocal visa-free facilities given to citizens of the two countries should be complemented with direct connection between them. With growing middle class population, Indonesia is a potential market for Fiji’s tourism. Both countries could also share experience in developing sustainable ecotourism.

 Technical cooperation and capacity building

Indonesia is committed to allocate USD 20 million to South Pacific Countries for the next five years. Up to date, the capacity building activities are varied from seaweed processing to fish crackers production. In this regard, it is important to continue with the program and expand it to other aspects of marine economy.

 In conclusion, in line with the preoccupation requisite as proposed by Westerdahl. by reorienting their focus on maritime issues, both Indonesia and Fiji can gain benefit from the development of maritime culture. In time this will provide a solid foundation to develop closer bilateral cooperation and strengthen Indonesia’s position as a part of Pacific community based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual benefit.



Andrew Richards with contributions from Maciu Lagibalavu, Subodh Sharma and Krishna Swamy, “Fiji Fisheries resources Profiles”, FFA Report No.94/4

Joeli Veitayaki, Annette Breckwoldt, Tareguci Sigarua, Nanise Bulai and Akosita Rokomate, Living from the Sea: Culture and Marine Conservation in Fiji, Suva, Fiji: iTaukei Trust Fund, 2014

Joeli Veitayaki, “Fisheries resource-use culture in Fiji and its implications”, in Culture and sustainable development in the Pacific

Jon M. Erlandson and Torben C. Rick, Archaeology Meets Marine Ecology: The Antiquity of Maritime Cultures and Human Impacts on Marine Fisheries and Ecosystems, The Annual Review of Marine Science online at

Kunatuba, P., 1983. A report on the traditional fisheries of Fiji, Institute of Marine Resources Technical Report, Suva

Sandra Tarte , “Fiji Islands’ Security Challenges and Defense Policy Issues”, in Asia Pacific Countries’ Security Outlook and Its Implications for the Defense Sector.



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