Every now and then a leader of uncommon abilities comes along who puts an indelible stamp of progress on his country and on the third world generally. Such a leader is President Suharto of Indonesia. His visit to the United States this week is an occasion to remind the American people of the vast changes for the better taking place in one of the most strategic corners of the world.
Let us recall that a little over 15 years ago Indonesia was in danger of becoming a communist client of the Soviet Union. Yet, during the decade and a half of rule under President Suharto, the country has largely overcome the political turmoil and economic chaos bequeathed by Sukarno. Indonesia, like all developing (and developed) nations, is having its grave problems, to be sure. But, according to the World Bank, it has done better than other members of OPEC in terms of managing its economy. In the area of population control, say experts, President Suharto has demonstrated greater astuteness than any leader of the third world - by paying attention to village organizations and women's concerns.
Politically, President Suharto's rule has in general been benign by Asian standards. Although a dictatorship, Indonesia has a constitutional structure and , unlike the one-man rule found in some other Asian countries, boasts a somewhat more collegial form of government. Abroad, Indonesia has played a constructive role in fostering regional stability, cooperating with Malaysia, the Philippines , Singapore, and Thailand to strengthen the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a bulwark against communist expansionism - of the Soviet or Chinese variety. It need hardly be added that Indonesia also plays a crucial role in securing the straits through which so much oil passes to Japan.
In light of the importance of Indonesia to stability in Southeast Asia and given the generally favorable climate in Indonesia for US investment, it should nonplus the public that the Reagan administration still does not have an ambassasor in Jakarta. Controversy arose over the appointment of one experienced career officer, who was not acceptable to conservative aides at the White House. And recently the administration floated the name of a businessman who was a former CIA undercover agent in Indonesia, a choice hardly calculated to endear him to the Indonesians.
It is scandalous that the US remains unrepresented in the fifth most populous nation in the world. This is a matter Mr. Reagan needs to deal with quickly - preferably by the appointment of an experienced career diplomat who understands the cultural, economic, and social setting of Asia and the subtleties of doing business there.