Indonesia, resplendent at Swiss forum, indignant over U.S. critics

By Anne Swardson
Saturday, February 1, 1997; 12:00 AM

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND, FEB. 1 -- Even by the standards of this august annual meeting of the world's elite, the reception that Indonesia hosted Friday night was sumptuous.

In the lobby stood a chocolate statue of a goat and a man that took a month to carve. A four-foot-high ice sculpture dominated the buffet. More than a ton of food, a third of it tropical fruit, had been flown halfway around the world for the event. Seven chefs, also flown in for the occasion, had worked for 48 straight hours to prepare it.

Native music wafted through the main hall. A fashion show, a dance presentation and a movie entertained the munching guests, hundreds of them. Just outside, native artisans plied their crafts: woodcarving, leather puppet-making, batik painting.

And placards everywhere proclaimed the identity of the host: "Enchanting and Beautiful Indonesia."

Each year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, one country is chosen to host a big bash. Last year it was Tunisia; the year before, India. This year, Indonesia is the country commanding attention, socially and otherwise.

Indonesia has some image problems in the United States, where questions have been raised about contributions to the Democratic Party through an Indonesian corporate executive and where working conditions in some of Indonesia's factories are criticized. Its government has come under fire from world organizations for repressing unions and political opposition, and for failing to establish a democratic regime.

But this year in Davos, where 2,000 business and government leaders come to network for six days each year, Indonesia has a high, and glowing, profile. Businesspeople flock to Indonesian lunches to make investment deals, passersby gawk at the Indonesian art on the walls of the meeting center, and everyone gobbles the satay on skewers at the reception.

This meeting in the Swiss Alps of government leaders, corporate chieftains and various opinion-makers is not about telling governments to reform their undemocratic ways. It is about money, power and information.

Indonesian officials say their self-promotion here is not a response to their woes across the Atlantic. Rather, they say, they are demonstrating the success of their economy.

At a luncheon hosted by Indonesia, Goeran Lindahl, president of the giant Swiss engineering firm ABB, told the 120 attendees: "By any yardstick the story of Indonesia's experience has been an impressive one. We are ready to be a long-term and committed partner with Indonesian authorities and customers." The Swiss company is heavily involved in the Indonesian energy business.

More than 40 Indonesians are here, including four cabinet ministers -- the largest delegation the country has sent. For them, Davos is a place to woo foreign investors and tout their economy, which has grown enormously in the last 10 years or so.

In the United States, the ripples are still spreading from the disclosure last fall that various people connected with the giant Indonesian Lippo Group conglomerate, and its vice chairman, James Riady, donated $450,000 to the reelection campaign of President Clinton and to the Democratic National Committee.

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