Thursday, August 10, 2017

Our August blog is now online.......

Dear members and friends

We have some really interesting and analytical articles for you to enjoy this month along with an excellent book review by Ron Wilton and institute member.

Here is what to read...

"Where Australia collides with Asia", A book by Ian Burnet and reviewed by Ron Witton.

"Australia in ASEAN: Indonesia Centrality", By Graeme Dobell

"Australia Plus is a Minus", By Duncan Graham

"Jokowi's bungled ban of Hizbut Tahir", By Greg Fealey

We hope you enjoys these current and excellent articles and you can access our blog by clicking below or scrolling down:

With our best regards

Lisa Bentley
Indonesia Institute Inc

8th August 2017

Book review: Where Australia collides with Asia

Ian Burnet: Where Australia Collides with Asia: The Epic Voyages of Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and the origin of “On the Origin of Species”, Rosenberg, 2017, 206 pp. $34.95.

Reviewed by Ron Witton (

Those of us who have learned Indonesian/Malay can well recall being told how its vocabulary provides evidence of the archipelago’s place in world history. This is reflected, like archaeological layers, in the language. The initial, lowest, stratum of the language is drawn from the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages that stretches westwards to Madagascar and eastwards to Tahiti and Hawaii. Over time, the language gained additional layers of vocabulary as the Indonesian/Malay archipelago with its very valuable spice islands became integrated into the world’s trade routes: first a layer of Sanskrit from India; then Arabic words from the Middle East; and then topped off with a final “layer” of words drawn from European languages.

Ian Burnet, in his latest book on the Indonesian archipelago, reminds us that for eons preceding the arrival of humans, the Indonesian archipelago was already a meeting place, not of peoples but of the great geological forces that would shape the world that humans were later to inhabit. His book focuses on the lives and ideas of Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, three of Britain’s most adventurous early naturalists to come to our part of the globe, who played a central role in our understanding of the effect of these geological forces on the diversity of life forms in the natural world.

When Gondwana broke up, the Australian tectonic plate came adrift and has travelled north colliding with Asia. Eastern Indonesia rests on that plate. The plate carries on it flora and fauna (eg marsupials and birds) common to Australia and to those parts of the southern hemisphere such as Africa and South America, to which it was once joined as part of Gondwana. As the Australian plate continues to drift northwards, it pushes against the tectonic plates on which Asia rests causing the volcanic eruptions and earthquakes of this volatile part of the globe. The western half of Indonesia rests on the Asian tectonic plate and has flora and fauna, such as tigers and elephants, which are strikingly different to the natural world of eastern Indonesia and Australia. Many of us know of this division of Indonesia’s flora and fauna through learning about the “Wallace Line”, that passes to the east of Bali and Kalimantan, which is named after Alfred Russel Wallace, one of the three figures about whom this book is written

What Ian Burnet achieves in his wonderfully illustrated and narrated book is to relate the important role the Indonesian archipelago has played in the intellectual history of the West. In their separate voyages Banks, Darwin and Wallace discovered the astounding diversity of the southern hemisphere’s natural world, and it was through their observations that the enlightenment truly came of age. Western thought found it could not reconcile the static divine word of the Bible with the diverse and ever-evolving scientific reality of the natural world.

Not only do we come to appreciate the fundamental intellectual and scientific importance of the voyages taken by these seminal scientific figures, but Ian Burnet’s very perceptive use of quotes from their public writings and private diaries allow us to see through their eyes the world they found and understand the intellectual problems it raised for them. Moreover, in the case of Darwin and Wallace, we enter into their very troubled worlds as they tried to explain the diversity of life they found. We come to understand the way that they separately arrived at the principle of “the survival of the fittest” and that this led them, inexorably, to deny the validity of creationism and hence the God-given “truth” of the Bible. The way that Darwin’s fear of confronting the church weighed on his mind, and led to him resisting publicising his ideas for some 14 years, is a salutary reminder of the somewhat precarious position of science in the nineteenth century. While it is true that people were no longer burnt at the stake for questioning religious tenets, Ian Burnet documents the way that scientists, politicians and even former friends vituperously denounced both Darwin and Wallace. Indeed, Pope Pius IX placed Darwin’s On the Origin of Species on the Index Expurgatorius in order to prohibit Catholics from reading it.

Of particular interest is the way that Wallace and Darwin separately conceived of what is now referred to as “Darwinism”. It is also fascinating to learn of the civil manner in which the fraught problem of scientific precedence was resolved between them, and lead to their close friendship in later life.

There is another perceptive dimension to Ian Burnet’s book. Just as the Indonesian/Malay language has layers to its vocabulary reflecting its historical development, and the archipelago rides on tectonic plates atop the earth’s geological layers, Ian Burnet’s study perceptively illustrates the tiers of Britain’s class structure through the social backgrounds of the book’s three protagonists.

The top layer is represented by Sir Joseph Banks, a leisured member of the British ruling class, who was born into a family of extremely wealthy landowners. Following his voyage with Cook, he was a national celebrity and revelled in the attention. He was elected as President of the Royal Society in 1778, a position he held for the next forty-one years. Among his other positions was being an adviser to the Kew Gardens, a member of the Board of Agriculture, overseeing the Royal Greenwich Observatory and being a trustee of the British Museum. No wonder his astounding and vast collection of previously unknown plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, insects and marine creatures carefully bought home from his travels failed to obtain from him the degree of often tedious attention required to describe, draw and classify them as a prelude to producing scholarly works. Indeed, his superb Florilegium did not see the light of day until it was published by the British Museum in the 1980's.

Darwin, being the son of a prosperous country doctor, was somewhat lower down the English social scale than Banks. Although neither Banks nor Darwin ever had to work for their living, the manner of their travels reflected their differential social status. When Banks learned of Cook’s proposed 1768 expedition to the Pacific to view the transit of Venus, he wrote to the Admiralty expressing his wish to accompany Cook on the voyage. Being a fellow of the Royal Society and a friend of Lord Sandwich, Banks’ request was granted. Banks contributed £10,000 of his own money so that he could travel in style in the somewhat limited space of the Endeavour. His private party consisted of the Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, the Finnish botanist Herman Spรถring, two personal assistants, two servants and his two hunting dogs.

In contrast, Darwin’s opportunity to travel was far less planned and almost serendipitous. He had been a somewhat unenthusiastic university student but was an avid naturalist. When he heard that Captain Robert FitzRoy was interested in having a “gentleman scientist” to accompany him on the Beagle, the young Darwin was most desirous of joining the forthcoming trip. However, despite having no need to work and being free to do whatever he liked, he had first to convince his father to let him go. Darwin’s father considered Darwin’s interest in being a naturalist as a waste of time and saw as foolhardy the proposed voyage that would last for many years. When his father at last relented, Darwin was able to depart on the Beagle in 1831. In contrast to Banks, Darwin travelled alone and had to deal with Captain FitzRoy’s often dark and unstable temperament. However, en route, he had the means to engage the services of one of the Beagle’s crew, Syms Covington, as his “shooter”. Covington remained in his employ until Covington migrated to Australia in 1839. Many of us know of this relationship through Roger McDonald’s wonderful novel, Mr Darwin’s Shooter.

Alfred Russel Wallace, in contrast to Banks and Darwin, was born into an impoverished middle-class family with seven children and had to leave school at the age of fourteen. Wallace lived virtually his whole working life on the edge of economic disaster. Despite often being reduced to poverty, he was able, through his devotion to naturalism and exploration, to make money selling specimens to British collectors. Despite his life being often one of privation and hardship, the years he spent in eastern Indonesia from 1854 to 1862 during which he collected more than 126,000 specimens, made him one of the world’s foremost naturalists.

While Banks travelled in style with his large party and Darwin had funds to employ Syms Covington, Wallace travelled and worked alone until he recruited a fifteen-year-old Malay boy named Ali as his apprentice. Ali, whom Wallace taught to shoot and skin birds, accompanied him on his travels around Indonesia. During their travels, Ali cooked for Wallace, nursed him back to health during his various illnesses, and helped save both their lives through his boating skills. It is through Wallace’s own words that we come to understand the affection that Wallace held for Ali and serves as an example of the way that the inclusion of copious quotes from the diaries of Banks, Darwin and Wallace makes the book such a delight to read.

While Banks lived out his years as a celebrity member of British society and Darwin had a country home where he could devote himself to his studies, Wallace returned to a precarious life in England only slightly ameliorated by the sales of his highly popular book The Malay Archipelago. It was only when Darwin secured for him a government pension in 1881 that he finally gained a measure of financial security.

Like the geology of the earth we live on, and like British society that founded modern Australia, this wonderfully enlightening and delightful book is many-layered.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Australia in ASEAN: Indonesian centrality

The roller-coaster nature of Australia’s history with Indonesia—high moments of great optimism, low periods of clash and argument—means that Indonesia’s foreign policy elite is cautious when contemplating the idea of Australia joining ASEAN. But it’s something that Australia’s policy elite might well contemplate.

As one example of Australia’s thinking about Indonesia, note Tony Abbott’s view that it’s ‘in many respects our most important overall relationship’. Heading off to Jakarta on his first overseas trip as PM in 2013, Abbott saw the approach to Indonesia as vital: ‘It’s probably not realistic to think of Australia having the same relationship as it has with New Zealand but that’s the direction you would like it to move in.’

The Oz–Kiwi relationship has a depth of history and culture that we’ll never have with Indonesia. But Abbott is surely right that Indonesia is a central factor in Australia’s regional future. I could offer quotes of a similar tenor from every Australian PM going back to Menzies (although the Menzies embrace of the idea of living with Indonesia forever was deeply coloured by dread).

As another example, see Paul Keating’s 2012 Murdoch lecture, in which he argued that Indonesia will become Australia’s most important strategic partner:
How things go in the Indonesian archipelago, in many respects, so go we. Indonesia remains the place where Australia’s strategic bread is buttered. No country is more important to us—and it is a country which has shown enormous tolerance and goodwill towards us. Focus on this country should be a major imperative driving our foreign policy.
An Australian move to join ASEAN would be about the centrality of Southeast Asia to our strategic and economic future. And at the heart of that equation is Indonesia.

A discussion of Australia joining ASEAN is also a way to conceptualise a deeper association with Indonesia. The importance of Indonesia should feed into the understanding of what Australia could do with ASEAN. The bilateral builds towards the regional, just as the regional fosters the bilateral.

The previous Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa (2009–2014), rejects Keating’s call for Australia to join ASEAN, arguing that it’d be a distraction for ASEAN and could even inflame tensions inside Australia about our alignment with Asia. Natalegawa’s two big worries are China tearing apart ASEAN and the Jokowi administration musing about a ‘post-ASEAN’ diplomacy.

In both areas, Canberra should argue that a bigger Australian role in ASEAN would be more of an asset than a hindrance. Australia joining ASEAN would help, not hurt, the middle-power game with China.
Natalegawa’s predecessor as foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda (2001–2009), took a more technocratic approach when I spoke to him about Australia joining ASEAN. Wirajuda pointed to the formal veto—not being part of Southeast Asia —plus an informal rule that a member of ASEAN can’t be part of another regional grouping, as Australia is in the Pacific Islands Forum.

The response to those points is that Australia, as a nation on its own continent, has a series of regions. And formal rules can be changed as circumstances change.
In discussing the Australia-into-ASEAN idea, Wirajuda says he sees it as a replay of the debate within ASEAN about admitting Australia (and New Zealand) to the East Asia Summit: ‘I communicated with my counterparts, early on, especially when Australia was invited to joined the EAS, and said, accelerate the process of integration of Australia into this region, first into ASEAN but then into a larger community-building process.’

Wirajuda says the integration argument succeeded in the EAS, but failed when he was pushing for Australia to be admitted to the Chiang Mai Initiative, the currency swap arrangement between ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea. He’d strongly supported Australia joining Chiang Mai, but China was even more emphatic in rejecting Australian membership.

Wirajuda’s advice on Australia’s way ahead with ASEAN: ‘I think Australia should make itself more accepted by the region. Speed up your integration—less in a formal process—more in substance.’ He thinks that integration could lead to the moment when ASEAN admits Australia, initially as a half-member with observer status—shifting Australia from the status it has had since 1974 as an ASEAN dialogue partner.
‘I think in the future we should be open, ASEAN should be open to create this special status of observer’, Wirajuda says. ‘So far we work under the ASEAN-plus-one dialogue process, we have a regular dialogue process with Australia. In effect, it would not be much different with observer status, as the ASEAN-plus-one dialogue is done back-to-back with the summit. To me, the margin of difference between dialogue partner and observer is not so much.’

I asked Wirajuda whether reaching for Australian ASEAN membership would be seen as too ambitious, raising too many questions for ASEAN. Ever the diplomat, Wirajuda replied with a meditation on whether Australia would be able to play by the club rules: ‘In the dialogue process, ASEAN-plus-one, our partners can raise anything. But, of course, our partners know how the consensus decision-making process works in ASEAN, which also is perhaps a handicap for our partners.’

Australia’s shift towards ASEAN could happen in step with the broadening and deepening of what Australia seeks to do with Indonesia. That is the perspective of a former head of Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kishore Mahbubani. Here he is making the yes case for Australia’s ASEAN membership. And here are Mahbubani’s further thoughts on how Australia’s embrace of its strategic and economic future in Southeast Asia would move in step with its central relationship, with Indonesia:
Your relations with Indonesia have got to change. You have to show much greater sensitivity to them, closeness to them. Right now you have a good formal relationship, but it’s all about government-to-government, not a heart-to-heart relationship with Indonesia. Mind you, I don’t expect a big-bang change. I think it will be gradual for Australia.
Australia’s gradual movement towards Indonesia must be closer and deeper, just as it must be with ASEAN.

Australia Plus is a minus

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Australia is failing to broadcast its best television into Southeast Asia, a serious missed opportunity, argues Duncan Graham
Most nations strive to show their best sides to the world through international TV channels, seen as effective means of building rapport and dispelling distrust.

On these platforms they serve documentaries, dramas and newscasts made to enhance their country’s real or imagined virtues.  BBC World, France 24, Al Jazeera, NHK (Japan), Deutsche Welle and other telecasters offer vistas grand using serious money.

The French Government is reported to spend A$117 million a year on France 24 while Russia’s RT channel is believed to have an annual budget of US$300 million. The Voice of America has US$218 million, all from government funds. Now China is expanding its overseas reach with China Central Television.
We have Australia Plus, run by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation with the help of Monash University, the Government of Victoria, and Swisse – a food supplement manufacturer owned by a Hong Kong-based company.

Through this service we give the world Bananas in Pyjamas, Giggle and Hoot and Australian Rules played seriously by no other country apart from a hybrid in Ireland. Yet we live in a region where projecting a positive image among the near neighbours is particularly important as the biggest in the block have reservations about us.
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Bananas in Pyjamas, B1 and B2 Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to a recent survey published by the USAsia Centre, Indonesians responded to the question: which country has the closest relationship with President Joko Widodo’s government? Saudi Arabia was first at 47 per cent, followed by China, and the US. Only two per cent said Australia.  Clearly, we have problems.

A strange message to the region

Our presentations to the Asia–Pacific used to be different. For decades, Australian governments believed that broadcasting and telecasting into the region was an important commitment, sowing ideas, informing and influencing.
Using shortwave, Radio Australia started in 1939, mainly to counter Japanese propaganda.  After the war, it became a ‘soft power diplomacy tool’ in the jargon of Foreign Affairs. Other terms commonly found in the literature include ‘globally connected’ and ‘promotion of Australian values’.
Thousands developed their English skills huddled over crackling sets, particularly during the 1950s–60s.  Technology forced changes. Satellites eclipsed land-based transmitters.  Re-brands became necessary but the vision remained and the mission expanded.

In 2006, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced that ABC Asia Pacific (formerly Australia Television International) would become Australia Network, with funding from his department plus advertising.

Downer said the ABC would run the network offering ‘high quality programs about Australia and its engagement with the region’. Also promised were ‘extensive news and current affairs programs, Australian-produced education, drama, entertainment and lifestyle programs’.

In 2011, the Labor Government called tenders to run Australia Network. The two main hopefuls were the ABC and Sky TV which had long campaigned to get the job.  When it seemed Rupert Murdoch’s company—no friend of Labor—would get the contract, the tender process was scrapped and the job given to the ABC.
The failure to use the opportunity well is irresponsible
The victory was short-lived. After the Liberal-National Coalition won government in 2013, Australia Network was turned off. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the network ‘had failed to deliver a cost-effective vehicle’, but provided no facts to back the claim.
The then ABC managing director Mark Scott said the decision ‘sends a strange message to the region that the Government does not want to use the most powerful communication tools available to it to talk to our regional neighbours about Australia’.

The failure to use the opportunity well is irresponsible.

Killing off the network may have satisfied a political ideology but a legal reality had to be faced. The ABC Charter requires it to be an international broadcaster, so the gap had to be filled.
At the site for Australia Plus,  the image polishers have called it ‘…an opportunity for Australian businesses and a case study in corporate entrepreneurship … an endeavour that should be applauded. It is a positive step for the broadcaster, for public institutions in general and for Australian business.’
So far, few corporates have clapped because their logos are yet to appear on Indonesian screens. The 360 Australian businesses that launched a mighty assault on the Indonesian market in 2015, and again this year with 120 delegates, are absent from the list of sponsors.
It might be logical to assume we would be offering our best and brightest programs
The new service is believed to cost A$20 million a year, with three ‘foundation partners’—in the coy language of one report—‘signing on to advertising deals worth in the low single-digit million dollar range’.  Presumably, this means somewhere between one and three million a year, so still a minority contribution.
As Australian leaders recite the mantra that our relationship with Indonesia is our most important foreign relationship, it might be logical to assume we would be offering our best and brightest programs, selected specifically for the archipelago and other markets.

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On set for Home and Away Photo: John Campbell Source: Wikimedia Commons
According to the ABC ‘the service is delivered as a single stream across all territories.  Programs do not have separate versions for individual territories.’  So it is one-size-fits-all in the 43 countries that get Australia Plus. This negates the broadcaster’s claim that ‘the ABC places the audience at the centre of everything it does’.

In Indonesia, three pay-to-use cable services carry Australia Plus.  They get it free.  The ABC says it is ‘available to three million people in Indonesia.’ This means the number who pay for access to networks each offering 50 or more channels.

We are the closest Western nation to Indonesia with the ability to present a different perspective in the media jungle of Southeast Asia. Australia Plus says its mission is ‘to provide a television and digital service that informs, entertains and inspires our audience with an uniquely Australian perspective.’  Note the order of priorities.

Indonesian viewers comparing Australia Plus with presentations from other nations might conclude that we are a poor country offering inconsistent fare, and indifferent to audience needs.

No lack of skills and talent, just lack of political will

This situation may not concern the Government but it appears to worry the ABC. In March this year it made an untitled submission to the Foreign Policy White Paper.
The DFAT document noted the expansion of the BBC World Service and other TV networks into overseas telecasting while reminding DFAT of some original principles: ‘Australia requires a strategy for engagement which enhances mutual understanding and respect and which encourages an exchange of ideas. Establishing strong cultural and social links with international populations will facilitate stronger economic ties and more productive collaboration.’

Perhaps this late prod to conscience might someday get a reaction.  However, so far nothing seems to stir the major parties. They enjoy ABC and SBS excellence at home and offer heart-warming statements about Australia being respected in the region.

If Australia’s overseas TV is supposed to project a robust Western democracy, a creative explorer of art and technology and a leader in education, then Australia Plus is a turn-off. It could be a splendid showcase in Indonesia and the other nations where it is available, spreading Australian news, culture, values and opinions, equal to its international competitors.

We have the skills and talent.  What we lack is political will.

(This article is based on a paper presented at the Indonesia Council Open Conference at Flinders University.)

Jokowi's Bungled Ban of Hizbut Tahir

 By Gregory  Fealey

On 13 July, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) issued a regulation in lieu of law (Perppu) which will allow the banning of the Islamist organisation Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). This follows the government’s announcement on 9 May that it intended to disband HTI on the grounds that its teachings conflicted with the constitution and state ideology of Pancasila, and that its activities were creating public unrest.

The government’s actions have proven controversial and there are strong grounds for arguing that both decisions undermine Indonesian democracy and carry considerable political risk for Jokowi. The use of the Perppu, in particular, points to the government’s inept legal and political strategies behind the banning.
Hizbut Tahrir has been present in Indonesia since the early 1980s. Initially a covert movement, it has operated above ground since 2000. It has grown rapidly over the past two decades and has branches in most of Indonesia’s provinces. It keeps its membership numbers secret, but has been regularly able to mobilise thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, to its rallies.

The cornerstone of its teaching is the necessity to restore a global caliphate, after the last of the Ottoman caliphs was removed by Turkey in 1924. It regards democracy as un-Islamic and campaigns fervently but peacefully for sharia law implementation and the rejection of capitalism and secularism.

The government’s May announcement that HTI was to be banned came as a surprise and was met with immediate scepticism by many commentators. There were several reasons for this. First, HTI’s pro-caliphate views had long been known and the organisation’s leaders were usually careful to avoid explicit rejection of the Indonesian state or Pancasila. The police claimed to have ‘abundant evidence’ that HTI had recently begun fomenting insurrection but media leaks about details of the police case referred only to speeches by a few local HTI officials.

Second, HTI had no history of violence, unlike many other Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI). Critics asked why the government was not targeting FPI, for example, which had repeatedly been involved in vicious attacks on religious minorities. Moreover, only a couple of ex-HTI members had been implicated in terrorism, far less that the number of convicted jihadists with connections to major Islamic organisations like Muhammadiyah or the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Third, the claim that HTI was creating social disturbances appeared contrived. In the month prior to the May announcement, Ansor, the youth wing of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), staged protests against HTI meetings, persuading police to cancel the HTI events. Simmering tension between NU and HTI was nothing new, but NU’s physical confrontation of HTI was. Interviews with NU leaders suggest some level of coordination between NU’s youth wing, Ansor, and Jokowi government officials, seemingly to build a case for action against HTI.

While the government claimed there were pressing security and legal reasons for banning HTI, the real reasons appear to be political. Since the massive Islamist mobilisation against the incumbent Chinese Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok), in late 2016 and early 2017, resulting in his defeat in April, the Jokowi government has been scrambling to counter rising Islamist power while rallying ‘moderate’ Islamic support for the president. Counter measures have included the arrest and planned prosecution of numerous Islamist leaders on a variety of charges from sedition to disseminating pornography.

HTI was one of four Islamist organisations that led the anti-Ahok campaign and the government probably regarded it as the easiest target. HTI’s caliphal doctrines could be readily cast as a threat to national security and the organisation lacked the large and militant membership of FPI. Lastly, HTI was not especially popular within the broader Islamic community, with NU in particular openly calling for its banning. By announcing a ban on HTI, the government signaled to other Islamist organisations its determination to push back against them.

The sudden issuing of the Perppu last week was unexpected, as the government had previously said it would prosecute the matter through the courts, in keeping with the law governing social organisations. Last week the line changed with the government argued existing laws were inadequate for a timely prosecution and that the president had to resort to a Perppu to address a legal vacuum as well as a threat to the nation.

 The Perppu can be used by the Internal Affairs and Justice ministers to withdraw the legal status of a social organisation, with the obvious target being HTI. The government's actions were sharply criticised by NGOs, legal experts and the media, as well as by many Muslim leaders, as arbitrary and unwarranted.
The government’s justification for the Perppu is indeed unconvincing and points to both haste and poor planning. Why was it only now aware of shortcomings in the social organisation law? Should not such matters have been investigated prior to the May announcement of HTI’s dissolution? And where was the HTI threat that required such urgent action? The government has offered no good answers to these questions and its actions are better explained by the likely realisation that evidence against HTI may have been insufficient to win judicial approval of a ban. Indeed, Jokowi may be using the Perppu to maintain pressure on his Islamist foes.

All of this carries risks for Jokowi. HTI will appeal to the Constitutional Court and there appear to be grounds for arguing the government has not followed the Court’s own ruling on the process for banning social organisations. If the Perppu is overturned, Jokowi’s standing will be diminished and Islamist groups emboldened.

There are reasons to doubt whether a ban on HTI would be effective. Its membership is disciplined and resourceful, having undergone a long process of induction and caderisation. Hizbut Tahrir also has experience, both in Indonesia and abroad, of operating underground. HTI activists could simply create new labels for their activities or have no organisation affiliation at all, while secretly working through informal networks to pursue HTI’s mission.

Finally, there is the matter of whether a nation that proclaims itself as an exemplar of democracy should be seeking to proscribe an organisation without compelling evidence of wrongdoing or threat. If it is the case that individual HTI leaders have advocated seizure of power, then they can be prosecuted under existing laws without seeking to disband an entire organisation. The proposed ban on HTI looks very much like an abuse of state power for political aims.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Between persecution and prosecution: vigilantes, the state and the politics of offence.

By: Sana Jaffrey and Siswo Mulyartono

Dr Fiera Lovita, from Solok in West Sumatra, fled to Jakarta after she was intimidated by members of the Islamic Defenders Front FPI). Screenshot of press conference broadcast by Net.

Indonesia has had a tumultuous year dealing with a divisive election and massive protests against Jakarta’s former governor, led by the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI). Things finally appeared to calm down last month, until the police charged FPI’s firebrand leader, (link is external) Rizieq Shihab, in a pornography case. Since then, a series of incidents involving intimidation of FPI critics has renewed public outcry about aggression by hard-line religious groups. This time, at the centre of the storm is no loud-mouthed politician. It is a 15-year-old boy.

A video that went viral (link is external) last week shows the teenager, accused of posting offensive material about Rizieq on his Facebook page, surrounded by several men claiming affiliation with the FPI. As the mob coerces him into reading an apology, the teen is repeatedly told that other offenders have suffered a much worse fate. “We, at the FPI still follow procedure but people can’t contain themselves if their leader is insulted.” As if to demonstrate, two men strike the teenager while the crowd breaks into raucous laughter.

Data compiled by free-speech advocacy network SAFEnet (link is external) shows that the harassment of the Jakarta-based teenager is part of a much broader pattern of “persecution” by the FPI. Since January 2017, at least 59 people have been subjected to similar intimidation after criticising the organisation on various social media platforms. Out of recorded cases, 34 took place in May, after the police named Rizieq a potential suspect. Initially, most incidents occurred in Jakarta and West Java but have since spread to other parts of the country.

Observers have rightly noted the “organised” nature (link is external) of this intimidation campaign by the FPI. After successfully leading the rallies to “defend Islam” in Jakarta in late 2016, the previously fringe organisation was openly courted by mainstream Muslim politicians. (link is external) Presumably, preventing public ridicule of Rizieq’s alleged sex chats (link is external) seeks to protect this hard-won social capital that could prove useful during the local and national elections looming in 2018 and 2019. However, two aspects of these recent events can explain how their significance goes beyond the narrow political interests of any single organisation and why this mode of intimidation is likely to recur.

First, FPI’s recent campaign builds on a tried-and-tested template of indignant mob action to regulate social behaviour. As a general phenomenon, where mobs either demand enforcement of the law to their satisfaction or directly punish a range of alleged transgressions, vigilantism is rampant (link is external) in Indonesia. As a self-professed vigilante organisation, the FPI also has a long history of conducting raids (link is external) against a host of “immoral” activities. Yet, the specific mode of intimidation observed in the recent set of cases against individuals accused of offending religious leaders is neither unique to the FPI nor to its hard-line ideological agenda.

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the largest Muslim organisation in Indonesia, also conducts online monitoring (link is external) as part of an agreement with the National Police. (link is external) Over the past year, members of NU’s youth militia, Banser, have identified and “managed” several individuals accused of posting derogatory comments about NU religious leaders (kiyai).

In November 2016, a housewife from Serpong, on the outskirts of Jakarta, was accused of insulting Kiyai Maimoen. (link is external) She used crude words to dismiss his suggestion that Ahok’s apology was sufficient to put the blasphemy matter to rest. Following a visit by Banser members, she was driven to Central Java, where she apologised to Maimoen in person. A Jakarta resident who ridiculed a tweet by Mustofa Bisri (commonly known as Gus Mus) was met with a similar response. (link is external) In January, NU’s cyber team tracked offensive comments about the organisation’s leader, Said Aqil Siradj. A Jember man accused of causing the offence issued a public apology (link is external) in a press conference arranged by the local Banser chapter. Most recently, a Jakarta man refused to retract his allegedly offensive comments about Kiyai Lutfi Yahya. Following a visit by local Banser personnel, he promptly signed a statement of apology (link is external) and posted it on his social media page.

Members of Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, have also taken a similar course. Last month, the organisation’s youth wing in Sidoarjo, East Java, took issue with the online comments of a local man accused of insulting two former leaders, Din Syamsuddin and Amien Rais. The accused was asked for “clarification” (link is external) at the local police station, where he signed a written apology.

There are no reports of NU or Muhammadiyah members engaging in the kind of violence seen in the video of the Jakarta teen. The scale of their efforts is also much smaller than FPI’s recent campaign. But the general mode of response to a perceived offense is similar: the accused offender is reported through a dedicated social media account; the offensive post is circulated until the accused is tracked down; a group claiming affiliation with the offended organisation visits the accused and obtains an apology.

It is worth noting that there is no attempt to conduct these proceedings in secrecy. Instead, the organisation’s visit and the apology from the accused offender are highly publicised affairs, with photographs and videos widely circulated on social media. Creating a public spectacle not only punishes the individual accused of an offence, but also serves to forewarn others to adjust their behaviour accordingly.

Second, despite the recent arrests (link is external) and disciplinary action (link is external) against local police heads, the Indonesian state systematically encourages this mode of “offence” management. Recent incidents involving the FPI prompted several observers and victims to lament the “state’s absence”. (link is external) Ironically, however, state officials have not only been present in most of the recorded cases, but have actively facilitated written apologies from the accused.

In the case of the Jakarta teenager, the neighbourhood head was given advance notice by the FPI and the entire session (link is external) took place in his office. When a Tangerang woman was accused of insulting Rizieq, the local police chief called her in for questioning and negotiated an apology in his office. (link is external) According to a doctor from Solok, West Sumatra, who faced relentless harassment by FPI members until she fled to Jakarta, the police remained in close contact with her throughout her ordeal. An intelligence officer first warned her (link is external) about the impending visit from FPI. The subdistrict police chief facilitated her apology and signed on as a witness. The district police chief, who was eventually removed from her post for her role in the case, also met with the doctor several times.

What explains the relatively uniform state response to these incidents, at varying times and in different places? Two mutually reinforcing dynamics are at play. First, there are strong institutional incentives for formal law-enforcement officials to push for semi-formal mediation of social disputes. The police are generally under pressure to de-clog the already overwhelmed criminal justice system. When faced with a mob, these bureaucratic concerns are compounded by the need to thwart potentially embarrassing violent confrontation through negotiation.

As a result, junior police officers are required to engage in “problem-solving (link is external)” with communities to resolve disputes amicably (secara kekeluargaan) through dialogue (musyawarah). Typically, this involves holding a mediation session in conjunction with other government officials. The accused signs a letter admitting guilt and promising not to repeat the offence. The complainant also signs a letter accepting any compensation that is negotiated in the process and promising not to press legal charges. All officials co-sign the stamped letters and the case is considered resolved.

This arbitration is mostly used for resolving disputes involving individuals, such as petty theft, adultery, assault and traffic accidents. But it is also becoming the routine method for settling religious disputes (link is external) where one party is either an individual or a minority with considerably less leverage than the other. In cases where one side is represented by a mob, state officials explicitly cite (link is external) the threat of violence to initiate mediation. In dealing with recent cases of intimidation by the FPI, the local police seem to have broadly followed this rather standard procedure.

Second, strict legislation to control online defamation in general and religious offence, in particular, creates equally strong incentives for the accused to agree to semi-formal mediation. Consider the alternatives. Even if an individual is prepared to risk mob violence and refuses mediation, she would face a lengthy legal investigation that is highly likely to result in an arraignment. According to data gathered by SafeNET (link is external), between 2008 and 2009, 79 cases were filed with the police, out of which 67 individuals were formally charged.

To make matters worse, the same mob that was previously pressuring the accused for an apology would now mobilise to “guard” (kawal) the legal process (link is external) to ensure a satisfactorily hefty sentence is doled out. Given widespread concerns about susceptibility of the courts to this kind of pressure, the odds of a conviction are high. At the same time, the offended organisation is likely to lean on the accused’s employers and neighbours to elicit social sanction. Given these options, it is not difficult to see why an accused individual would rather resign herself to the outcome of an unfair mediation after persecution, than risk prosecution by the state.

There is no denying FPI’s recent campaign is designed to protect its organisational interests. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that other, more moderate organisations have also engaged in similar efforts. Collectively, these efforts represent the latest skirmish in a much wider contest over boundaries of religious offence in Indonesia. The goal is not to eliminate offenders but to publically cow them into submission. Vigilante action is proving to be an effective tactic, even for mainstream organisations, because it allows them to leverage the coercive capacity of the Indonesian state to achieve their ends.

 Sana Jaffrey is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago’s Department of Political Science and a visiting fellow at the Center for Study of Religion and Democracy (PUSAD Paramadina). She previously led the design and implementation of the National Violence Monitoring System (NVMS) database at the World Bank during 2008-2013.

 Siswo Mulyartono is a researcher at PUSAD Paramadina. He has co-authored "Policing Religious Conflicts in Indonesia" and wrote his BA thesis on the anti-Ahmadiyya mobilisation in Cikeusik, Banten, at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta.

Monday, June 12, 2017


By Ross B. Taylor

The release last week of international visitor arrivals into Perth looked a good news story: Up 9% for the year ended March 2017.

But take a closer look at the number of people coming to WA as tourists (excluding family, student and business visits) and the numbers from Indonesia really are awful. Just compare the number of holidaymakers arriving into Perth in this 12 month period:

  • Malaysia: 71,488
  • Singapore: 62,700
  • Indonesia: 12,500

Our local hotel industry is desperate for more visitors and meanwhile Indonesia has a growing middle-class, approaching 100 million people and air travel for tourism is booming. So why such bad numbers?

1. Visas

Obtaining a visa to visit Australia is finally becoming easier thanks to a lot of work by our embassy in Jakarta and the WA Trade Office. For too long Indonesians have had to queue or complete up to 16 pages of information in order to apply for a visa, whilst their 'mates' in Malaysia and Singapore could apply online. Also, a family of four from Bali (for example) still must pay a non-refundable application fee of $520.00 just to try and get a visa for Australia. It's too expensive.

2. Airlines:

KL in Malaysia and Singapore have numerous flights into and from Perth each day with various airlines, whilst only Garuda Indonesia connects Perth and Jakarta; and that is not even a daily flight. BatikAir commence flights between our two countries this month and they will be a great addition to the travel industry in WA.

3. TourismWA

TourismWA have, I believe, not really developed a clear strategy for Indonesia in the past, preferring to focus on other countries. Like many business people here in Australia, they 'forgot' about the sleeping giant just a few hours to our north.

With TourismWA coming under the control of the Department of State development (DSD) in the near future - as part of the state government's re-structuring of its departments - let's hope we see some positive leadership in getting more Indonesians to visit us.

Perth and our state has much to offer international tourists, including from Indonesia. We just need to articulate what a great experience awaits our neighbors when they get here.

Ross B. Taylor AM is the president of the Indonesia Institute (Inc) that is based in Perth. Ross can be followed on Twitter:


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Caning of gay men in Aceh: not necessarily the exception to Indonesian rule.

By Daniel Peterson

Recent events in Indonesia should dispel any doubt about the rising influence conservative Sunni Islamist sentiment is having on the country’s laws.

Just three weeks ago, Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, was found guilty of insulting the Qur’an and sentenced to two years in prison. Ahok decided not to appeal the verdict “for the good of the country”, fearing that any attempt to overturn his conviction would divide the nation’s capital even further.

On 30 April and May 21, police raided gay sex parties in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, and Jakarta. Arrests were made in both instances for alleged violations of Indonesia’s anti-pornography law.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia – although it is in the autonomous province of Aceh. Police have said several of the men will be charged under the anti-pornography law.

On May 13, in Aceh’s capital Banda Aceh, two young gay men were caned 83 times before more than 1,000 onlookers. They had been convicted of sodomy.
Distinct from Indonesia’s national criminal code, Aceh’s criminal code, which is known locally as the Qanun Jinayat, prohibits sodomy. Vigilantism is also prohibited and has been denounced by senior public officials. Despite this, the conduct of the vigilante group that arrested the two young men after breaking into their rented room and assaulting them both has not been scrutinised.

“Moral” crimes

The caning temporarily shifted international focus from Ahok’s blasphemy conviction to issues of corporal punishment and the policing of “moral” crimes in Indonesia’s sole autonomous province.
While some may find comfort in the fact that Indonesia’s national criminal code is not as draconian and invasive as Aceh’s, the underlying ideological issue remains the same nationwide: contemporary Indonesia is heading down the path of conservative Sunni Islamism.

Indonesia’s Constitutional Court (Mahkamah Konstitusi) has declared that Islamic law is only one source of law in Indonesia, alongside traditional customary law (adat) and Western law, to name a few. But for many of the country’s Muslim-majority population and judiciary, conservative Sunni Islamic norms are becoming the preferred basis for law and jurisprudence.

Like Indonesia’s blasphemy laws, the Acehnese criminal code has received heavy criticism from human rights groups. The most notable of “moral” offences prohibited under the code include adultery (zina), being in close proximity to a member of the opposite sex out of wedlock (khalwat), lesbian relations (musahaqah) and sodomy (liwath).

The code prescribes a maximum penalty for sodomy of 100 strokes of the cane. Human rights groups have decried the sanctioning and practice of caning in Aceh as “medieval torture”.
Caning does, in fact, violate multiple international human rights conventions. Among these are the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also contravenes human rights guaranteed in Indonesia’s constitution, including the right not to be tortured or subjected to degrading treatment.

Amnesty International, UN Human Rights – Asia, as well as countless local pro-diversity civil society organisations condemned the decision to cane the two men, aged 20 and 23. They also called on the Indonesian government to uphold its commitment to universal human rights standards.
But these calls will almost certainly go unheeded, because, from a legal perspective, Aceh’s criminal code is not necessarily unconstitutional. What’s more, international human rights guarantees may, in theory, be legally persuasive but enjoy no concrete legal standing in Indonesia.

Women in Aceh were publicly caned for spending time with men who were not their husbands. Reuters/Beawiharta

Constitutionality of Aceh’s criminal code

The authority for the statement that Aceh’s criminal code is not necessarily unconstitutional lies in a 2010 ruling of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court. That court found that Indonesia’s blasphemy law, the same law under which Ahok was sentenced to two years’ prison, is constitutionally valid.

While the ruling received broad criticism from human rights groups, it remains the most definitive and recent authority on the status of individual human rights in Indonesia.
The court made several salient points, all of which help explain the implementation of corporal punishment in Aceh and the discriminatory treatment of homosexuals. These were strongly informed by the concept of religion and its exalted status in Indonesian society.

First, the court noted that Indonesia is neither an Islamic nor secular state. It is, rather, a religious state (negara beragama) based on the principle of One Almighty God (Ketuhanan Yang Maha Esa).
The priority assigned to One Almighty God was born out of a constitutional compromise between the drafters of the 1945 constitution, some of whom hoped for a secular Indonesian state and others who envisaged an Islamic state.

As Indonesia is a religious state, the court found that “religious values” inform what makes a law good or bad. They also constitute a legitimate reason, the court said, to diminish individual human rights.
But what are “religious values” and who has the authority to define them?
The court’s interpretation of these values, as guaranteed in the 1945 constitution, may seem dubious to some. Rather than interpreting “religious values” as universal principles of brotherhood and humanity, for example, it read the term to mean the fundamental tenets of a state-recognised religion (pokok-pokok agama), as defined by Indonesia’s Ministry of Religion.
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court argues the country is neither an Islamic nor secular state. Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Shari'a-based values

Aceh’s criminal code arguably reflects the broader view in Acehnese society that corporal punishment is necessary to uphold local shari‘a-based values. And to discourage contradictory “moral” offences, of which homosexuality is one.

Caning also enjoys historical legitimacy. It has featured throughout the Islamic tradition as a form of punishment for both hudud (crimes against Islamic law contained in the Qur’an) and ta’zir (discretionary punishments for crimes against Islamic law administered by the state) offences.

The second crucial point of the ruling was that while religion may be a private matter to some, the Constitutional Court endorsed a concept of religion forming the identity of a community or society.
As critics have argued, the court’s decision prioritised the rights of religious ideas over the rights of individual adherents. It also legitimised the idea that a person’s religious identity is akin to property and may not be infringed upon.

There are few parts of Indonesia, if any, where Islam is considered more a part of one’s identity than in Aceh.

The Constitutional Court also found that upholding “religious values” was necessary to ensure public order. Again, critics have argued that the court conflated the need to maintain public order with the tendency to pander to general public discontent.
On this point, its stance partially explains why the criminal acts of certain vigilante groups continue to go unpunished where religion is concerned. Vigilantism in Aceh is commonly carried out in the name of the shari‘a.

Finally, the court stated that the Indonesian state had no obligation to ensure the domestic application of international human rights conventions. Rather, it held that Indonesia’s respect for various conventions and international law apparatuses, including human rights, must always be based on the philosophy and constitution of the Republic of Indonesia.
In other words, Indonesian “religious values” trump international human rights norms.
There are few parts of Indonesia where Islam is considered more a part of one’s identity than in Aceh. Reuters/Damir Sagolj

The exception or the rule?

Following something as controversial and divisive as the public caning of two citizens for having consensual sex in private, supporters of the LGBT community and opponents of corporal punishment may find it comforting to think of Aceh as the exception to the rule.
The province is, after all, the only one in Indonesia to legislate corporal punishment and to prohibit same-sex relations. But it is not the only one that’s home to radical, often violent, Islamist groups and vigilantes who, at times, appear to enjoy impunity.

Aceh may also not be the only province that prohibits same-sex relations and sex out of wedlock for much longer. In May 2016, a group calling itself the Family Love Alliance (AILA) petitioned the Constitutional Court to conduct a material review of the national criminal code.

While the review is still under way, AILA’s primary argument is that the national criminal code is a relic of colonial rule and does not reflect Indonesia’s traditional “religious values”.

If the court accedes to the petition, both sexual relations out of wedlock and homosexual relations as such may be outlawed across the archipelago. And this may provide sufficient justification for vigilante groups to carry out similar acts of violence across Indonesia.
So while it may be comforting to dismiss the caning as peculiar to Aceh, if Ahok’s blasphemy conviction tells us anything, it’s that it would be foolhardy to assume that other parts of the archipelago aren’t on a similar, albeit slower, trajectory.

Daniel Peterson is a PhD Candidate / Research Assistant, Institute for Religion, Politics and Society, Australian Catholic University

Dumping a free trade deal Indonesia and Australia need to look hard at their protectionist policies

                                                         By Duncan Graham

For the past two years, Australian exporters’ prospects have been jollied along by forecasts of a looming free trade agreement with their giant northern neighbor.

Once in place, grain carriers and beef boats would sail past unconcerned customs officials and into the increasingly hungry ports of the world’s fourth largest nation; Indonesian vegetable and mineral oils will head Down Under to a similar welcome.

Prefacing this nirvana have been big show-and-sell missions to the archipelago, ministerial handshake photo-ops and glowing statements implying negotiations are running briskly and on the same page.
So all being well, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) should be signed before 2018 dawns.

However, all is not well and that sunrise now seems remote.
The possibilities have been eclipsed - not by nationalist Indonesians fearing floods of foreign goods, but by parochial politics in Australia.

In April, the federal government abruptly announced dumping duties on Indonesian copy paper imports.
“The impact of the decision is potentially lethal,” Australia-Indonesia Business Council President Debneth Guharoy told members. 
“It flies in the face of the visiting president’s pointed request in Sydney for a fair go on paper and palm oil. [In February Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo promoted the CEPA in Australia.]
“We unilaterally decide to turn the [asylum seeker] boats around, stop the exports of live cattle, raise hell over the death penalty and now rollback their paper. Each and every time, we expect the Indonesians to bow to our self-promoted higher standards, our much-touted lofty principles.
“Those of us who have lived in, worked in or frequently travel to Asia cringe at the disdain with which these proclamations are treated by our neighbors.”
Indonesia Institute President Ross Taylor, a former national vice-president of the AIBC, warned that the problem should be “handled with subtlety”.

“Otherwise we run the risk of this tariff issue becoming a catalyst - for those who are anti-free trade - to have the CEPA stall or collapse,” he told Strategic Review. “That would be a great disappointment.

“Getting an agreement was always going to be a tough task - Indonesia is really focused on the need for big infrastructure projects that can be funded by North Asian countries.

“However, it can be done with goodwill and considered perseverance by both sides. The decision by Australian officials to impose the tariff at this time was less than helpful; Guharoy is right in that regard and we share his concern, as would Indonesia.”

The head of Indonesia's negotiation team was reported by Fairfax Media claiming the duties would affect discussions.
“We explained to Australia that it [the dumping accusation] is not true, but they insisted just to protect their industry,” Deddy Saleh was quoted as saying.
“So it means there is unfairness. How can we conduct negotiations when we know that our counterpart is not fair? Negotiation takes mutual trust from both sides.”
The duties will please supporters of trade barriers; they argue free trade agreements are an easy way to avoid developing complex policies to stimulate local yields and build food self-sufficiency. Instead, FTAs favor efficient producers like Australian wheat growers who can swamp local markets and put poor farmers out of business
‘Dumping’ means an exporter is selling goods overseas below the homeland price. 
Apart from deliberate attempts to weaken rivals through trade wars, there are two main reasons for dumping: a manufacturer has a surplus it can’t shift at home, or its products are being subsidized by government for local political reasons, such as keeping an unprofitable factory running to save jobs.
The upset started when a private company in Victoria complained to the independent Australian Anti-Dumping Commission that paper manufacturers in Indonesia (and some other countries) were undercutting local prices and threatening profits and jobs. The commission agreed and told the government.
Despite Australian Paper’s nationalistic name, the company is owned by Nippon Paper Industries of Japan.
Its two mills are in Gippsland, a rural area 160 kilometers east of Melbourne. AP is the biggest employer with around 1,300 on the payroll. It makes about 600,000 tones of paper products a year and much is exported.
The unemployment rate in Gippsland is 9.42 per cent against the national average of 5.7 per cent, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures.
To stop interest in trade with Indonesia flagging after the latest setback, the AIBC has asked National Development Planning Minister Dr Bambang Brodjonegoro to help buoy the disheartened.
“For the first time ever, a ranking Indonesian minister will visit five of our capital cities [in June] on a whistle-stop tour,” said Guharoy, who claims Indonesia could be the fifth largest economy by 2050, with Australia then ranking 32.
“The mission is to talk about Indonesia's economic outlook, the opportunities they present and against that backdrop, encourage Australian enterprises to engage.”
The AIBC has been pushing local businesses to recognize openings in the Indonesian market, with 250 million consumers and a growth rate of more than five per cent compared with Australia’s 2.4 per cent.
Indonesia is Australia’s 12th largest trade partner, mainly importing wheat, beef and sugar, and selling oil and some manufactured goods. Total two-way business is worth about US $11.4 billion.
An AIBC delegation will appear before a Parliamentary Inquiry on the Trading Relationship with Indonesia in Canberra this month. [May]  “We have an unintelligent relationship with our large neighbor and it does warrant examination,” said Gutharoy. “But I’m not so sure that the politicians will welcome the candor.”
Australia’s dumping duties are likely to be appealed to the Geneva-based World Trade Organization, a body not known for swift decision-making. Unless the Indonesians ignore Australian protectionism and abandon their own, a free trade deal is unlikely anytime soon. 

Duncan Graham is a East Java-based Journalist and writes extensively on issues within the region.