Monday, January 9, 2017

Welcome to 2017 and we present current comments on the suspension of Indo-Oz military ties, Governor 'Ahok' and much, much more....

Dear members and friends

As the trial of Jakarta's governor 'Ahok' continues and Australia and Indonesia face another 'test' of the bi-lateral relationship, with military ties being suspended, we are pleased to update our blog with some interesting articles.

Richard Woolcott writes "Australia must be more sensitive in dealings with Indonesia" whilst Yohannes Sulaiman takes a look at the issue of the military ties with Australia being suspended..or have they? Our president of the Indonesia Institute, Ross Taylor, also provides a short summary and comment on the suspension of military ties between Indonesia and Australia, whilst Professor Tim Lindsey explains why Bali might just be a bit more than baggies and bogans. Aaron Connelly also looks at how Indonesia is steering its own course in terms of controlling its territorial waters.

If you have not yet read the excellent briefings on the Jakarta Governor 'Ahok' blasphemy case then we urge you to do so.

We welcome your comments and interest in our Blog and we also welcome your membership of our institute if you have not already joined us so enjoy the rest of the holiday season and welcome to 2017.


With our warmest regards

Lisa Bentley
Indonesia Institute Inc.,
Perth, Australia

9th January 2017

Australia must be more sensitive in dealings with Indonesia.


Illustration: Eric Lobbecke

By Richard Woolcott

All Australians, especially our political leaders, should be in no doubt that in the future no relationship will be more important to Australia than that with Indonesia. This importance coexists with a vulnerability and sensitivities linked to our different approaches to major issues. The current rift and the suspension of all, or more likely some, of our military links is the latest example of the fragility of our relationship.
No two neighbours are as unalike. 

As former foreign minister Gareth Evans wrote in 1991: “We largely differ in language, culture, religion, history, ethnicity, population size, and in political and legal systems.”

Although it seems likely General Gatot Nurmantyo alleged publicly that Australia had tried to recruit Indonesian officers as agents, he apparently suspended defence co-operation between the two countries without discussing it with President Joko Widodo. But Jokowi, as the leader is popularly known, said he supported the decision as a matter of principle. In Indonesian politics it is not helpful to be regarded as being responsive to Australian pressure.

This was the case, for example, with Australia’s persistent opposition to the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Our continuing and excessive pressure in fact underlined that they would be executed. It was also seen in Indonesia as inconsistent because John Howard had supported the execution of Saddam Hussein and called for the execution of the Bali bombers.

General Gatot visited Darwin recently, apparently to ascertain what the 2500 US marines based there were actually doing. He also expressed concerns about possible Australian support for West Papuan independence and has argued in the past Australia originally opposed East Timor’s independence but changed its position when pressures built up.

Now that Indonesia has democratised, the general feels free to make comments that may not be supported by some of his colleagues. Australia’s relations with Indonesia, as well as our ties with China, the US, Japan, India and Russia are asymmetrical in that they are more important to us than relations with Australia are to them. We may not like this but it is a fact and means that the onus is on us to work hard to strengthen relations with these countries.

Indonesia is of special importance to us because it is so close and so large — a country of about 250 million people, 81 per cent of whom are Muslim, and with a 90 per cent literacy rate. Its middle class is growing rapidly. This offers so many challenges - and opportunities, if handled with sophistication.
The rise of Asia has been caused by the great transfer of wealth from the West to the East, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which is likely to continue into the foreseeable future.

This shift is driven mainly by the spectacular economic growth of China. It is also reinforced by the rise of India and the established economic strengths of Japan and South Korea, in addition to the growing potential of Indonesia and Vietnam.

This constitutes a historic global turning point to which Australia must respond — or be left behind.
The Asia-Pacific region is where the world’s major power relationships now most closely intersect. It is where the template for the US-China relationship will be largely shaped. It is also the crucible in which the interrelationships on Asia-Pacific issues between Australia and Indonesia, as well as the US, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and other regional countries will be forged.

And we are not doing as well in our engagement with Indonesia as the rhetoric and spin from ministerial offices would have us believe. Study of the Indonesian language and Asian history and cultures in our schools and universities is declining. Indonesia will never accept our “turn back the boats” policy. It sees Australia as a large country with a small population. A former Indonesian ­ambassador said to me recently that all those who had “come by boat in the last decade would not fill the MCG”.

Indonesia would also be un­impressed by any provocative action by Australia in the South China Sea.
I believe we need a fundamental change in our national psyche to focus more on Asia than on our traditional links with the US, Britain and Europe. Many Indonesians see Australians as part of the “Anglosphere”, as uncouth in terms of Indonesian culture, and still harbouring undertones of ­racism and religious intolerance as the election of Pauline Hanson (and her supporters) to the Senate last year would indicate. They also find our close involvement in the conflicts in the Middle East damaging and inconsistent with our claimed focus on the Asian and southwest Pacific.

Indonesia welcomes constructive American involvement in the Asia-Pacific region but there is some concern about the pivot to Asia, now referred to as “rebalancing”. The Indonesian government and think tanks want to know what this will involve for us in US strategic thinking. In Indonesia there will be concern if we are seen as bound to American military activities, especially if places such as the Christmas and Cocos islands — so close to Indonesia, yet part of Australia — might be used, including by drones, for security purposes the in region. As a matter of course we should keep Indonesia informed of what involvements we may be entering and the extent to which they might affect Indonesia.

It is, therefore, important that Australia has an Indonesian speaking, culturally sensitive ambassador in Jakarta.

The late Sabam Siagian, a former Indonesian ambassador to Australia and editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post, told me last year that thinking Indonesians find it difficult to accept Australia as a “true strategic partner”. Australia, he added, needs to “speed up its transition to the changed global and regional situation and become an independent nation that stands on its own two feet”.

He found it difficult to understand why Australia had not yet become a republic, and how we could retain the Queen of England as our head to state (the real issue was the monarchy, not the occupant).

Richard Woolcott is a former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, ambassador to Indonesia, and ambassador to the UN. He is the founding director of the Asia Society Australia Centre.

(This article first appeared in The Australian Newspaper on Monday 9th January 2017)