American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce


The Warehouse is Emptied

December 2021


At the end of July, at the height of the Delta variant’s impact, I learned that the City of NY had offered over 250 tons of surplus COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment( PPE) and medical supplies to the Republic of Indonesia, most of it stored in a Pennsylvania warehouse. It was up to Indonesia to arrange for the shipping. I vowed as an American and a New Yorker to find a way to empty the warehouse. I had seen the Indonesian community in Queens hand out meals to front-line workers outside NY hospitals during the horrible days in March and April 2020. My “gotong royong” (Indonesian for working together) kicked in. Over the next few months, working in collaboration with colleagues at the US-ASEAN Business Council, the Global Task Force for Pandemic Relief (organized by the US Chamber of Commerce) and the Indonesian Consulate General in NY as well as our members, a way was found. I am thankful my colleagues at these organizations immediately joined me in recognizing the importance of shipping everything even when it seemed at the outset to be an impossible task.

We began with free air shipments of ventilators, specimen collection kits, swabs and N95 masks in August and September on flights provided by Fedex and UPS with the balance of masks, kits, and hospital gowns sent by ocean cargo in November and December sponsored by Freeport-McMoRan. Some of the equipment arrived during the worst period of the Delta variant and some is arriving now when caseloads are down. However, the threat of a New Year and Omicron surge remains high and its clear NY City’s donated equipment has backstopped Indonesia’s existing inventories and has helped to save lives. This is what we accomplished:

Over $7.2 million of unused personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased in 2020 by the City of New York was donated to the foundation of the Ministry for State-Owned Enterprises for distribution to hospitals across the Indonesia utilizing the logistical support of Indonesia’s military. This includes:
176 ventilators and accessories
Over 1 million specimen collection kits
Over 1.3 million swabs
Over 1.9 million N95 masks
Over 1.6 million disposable gowns
Total of 262 tons shipped in 46 40-foot containers.

At a December 6 ceremony at the Indonesian Consulate in NY, the Government of Indonesia thanked the following companies and organizations: American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, US-ASEAN Business Council, US Chamber of Commerce, Fed Ex, UPS, Deloitte, Gojek, and Freeport-McMoRan. I was honored to be asked to give a few remarks on behalf of these wonderful partners. I said it was fitting that NY came to Indonesia’s aid in a time of need given how much each has helped define the identity of the other.
In 1664 the Dutch ended a war with England –and looking to consolidate their holdings in the East Indies and monopolize the valuable trade in nutmeg -known as the “refrigerant of Europe”- they traded Run Island held by the English for the island of Manhattan. New Amsterdam became NY. Perhaps we can thank Indonesia that we don’t speak Dutch.

In 1897 Standard Vacuum of NY(Stanvac)—later known as Mobil Oil– begins producing oil and kerosene in Sumatra
In response to Ford’s invention of the Model T, America’s need for rubber grows exponentially and by the 1920’s the US Rubber Company (Uniroyal) and Goodyear have established large estates in colonial Indonesia. By 1930 NY-based traders are supplying America’s appetite for rubber, pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, tea, coffee, botanical flavorings, and essential oils, much of it from colonial Indonesia.
Between 1945-49 NYers help lobby the US government, which was initially reticent, to recognize Indonesia’s declaration of independence and raise money for the new Republic.

In the 1960’s NY-based mining firms Freeport and International Nickel (INCO) are among the first investors after Indonesia passes a key investment law with contract of work provisions drafted in part by the NY law firm of Delson & Gordon. Another NY firm representing the Republic of Indonesia, White & Case, negotiates key international loans and commercial agreements.
In 1967, following the instability of 1965, NY firms such as Continental Grain, Cargill, and American Trade Sales make emergency shipments of rice to an impoverished Indonesia.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s NY artists such as composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich write ground-breaking music inspired by the gamelan orchestras of Java and Bali and Tony award winner Julie Taymor creates Broadway shows, such as the Lion King, incorporating the use of masks and shadow puppets based on her time in Indonesia.
When the great Recession of 2008 hollows out Wall Street, Indonesia’s high yielding sovereign bonds become a profitable safe haven.

We may have emptied the warehouse but the “gotong royong” between NY (America) and Indonesia remains.

(These views are the author’s and may not reflect those of AICC or its members.)