Wednesday, October 23

To Kota Bornesia by train  

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So far and yet so near.

TEACHER, if you ask your Geography class the name of the proposed new capital city of the Republic of Indonesia, no one, not even the brightest pupil in that class, will be able to name it. Why? Because it has no name yet, as of the time of writing anyway.

Since the announcement in August of this year of the probable site of the new capital by the Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo, I have been contacting some of my old friends at the Institute of Dayakology in Pontianak to find out if anyone there had given a name  for it at all. Without hesitation, one Bapak S Djuweng suggested, “Kota Bornesia.” “Any other name?” I asked. “Ask Pak Presiden himself,” he replied.

I had earlier been told by someone else that the new capital would be sited somewhere in Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan (Kalteng); that apparently was the first choice but somehow there was a change of plan. The new site is somewhere in the next province – East Kalimantan.

Why is there so much interest in Sarawak in the new Indonesian capital?

When Burma moved its capital from Rangoon to Naypyidaw 10 years ago, no one in Sarawak got excited. When Brazil built Brazilia as a new capital in the middle of the jungle away from Sao Paulo, nobody in Sarawak cared or they didn’t even know about it. When Nigeria moved its capital to Abuja, nobody here bothered to find out why. Ah, these are faraway places.

But this new capital city of another country will be so close to Sarawak, the westernmost border of the Federation of Malaysia with Indonesia.

Belaga District in Sarawak is sharing the border with East Kalimantan though there are many miles between Belaga and the new capital.

As the crow flies, the nearest town with an airport is Sibu in Sarawak. Kuching would be a convenient transit point for visitors from other parts of the world wanting to see the new capital city.

The prospect of a transboundary railway network linking three nations – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei – is not an impossibility. Border crossing railways could be anywhere in all of these countries. A figment of my imagination.

Fresh oil palm fruit bunches from the plantations in Indonesia nearest to the border may be processed in the mills in Sarawak if the same Malaysian company has a mill; the bulking installations in the nearest port at Bintulu or Tanjung Manis can be used for storage of oil before it is shipped overseas.

Or else the Indonesians can sell their oil to us for fractionation by plants sited in Sarawak, if the present entry points at Lubok Antu/Badau are allowed to be used by heavy vehicles. Other entry points along the border may be considered if both countries have the necessary will.

Am being a bit futuristic.

The prospect of Sarawak selling its excess electricity to Indonesia is real. The Indonesians may eventually build their own hydroelectricity power dams in East Kalimantan but for the next eight to 10 years, they may rely on the power from us. Good enough.

The tourism industry will be mutually advantageous. If the new capital is built in the jungle, this may attract many visitors from Europe, Japan, and China. In the hinterland of the part of the old Kutai Sultanate where the capital will be built are beautiful lakes such as Lake Semayang, Lake Melintang, and Lake Jempang. Potential tourist destinations.

After the completion of the capital there would be many visitors from or via Sarawak on the way to the new city. People want to go to a new city – a novelty. From Singapore the tourists may be persuaded to spend a couple of days in Kuching before they fly to East Kalimantan. There may be built a new airport in addition to the ones at Balikpapan and Samarinda.

I would love to go back to Samarinda. The delicious prawns (udang galah) from the Mahakam are out of this world.

The trade between the two regions of Borneo will be brisk indeed depending on what’s there to sell or buy.

When I was in Jakarta in 1989 under the auspices of the Asean Conference on Settlement in Solo, Surakarta, at the side meeting with delegates from Indonesia, I heard that they needed a new capital because Jakarta was slowly sinking, prone to floods and overcrowded. But they did not know where to find a site for it.

After the conference in Surakarta, the delegates flew to Borneo to attend a workshop held in Samarinda. We must have flown over the probable site of the new capital. Below us would have been the domain of the old Sultanate of Kutai. East Kalimantan, of which Kutai is part, was only incorporated in the Indonesia Republic declared by Sukarno and Hatta on Aug 17, 1945. That is probably another reason why this part of East Kalimantan was finally chosen as the site for the new capital.

No doubt we will read more about the developments of the new city. Our embassy in Jakarta will have to move to Borneo, and so have other embassies and consulates.

It is a strategic move, a colossal undertaking but a farsighted choice of a nation of 260 million people.

The new capital commands the Makassar Strait and is within easy reach by people from Makassar in Sulawesi and Manado, and other islands right through to Papua (Irian Jaya); the last territory was acquired from the Dutch through the UN in 1969.

My dear reader, do you think that the name ‘Bornesia’ will ever be adopted by the Indonesian authorities as the name of their new capital in Borneo?

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