Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Australia’s Indonesia Problem

By Prof. Tim Lindsey

Australian and Indonesian Flags Photo: Mia Salim, AusAID

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Indonesians reading the Foreign Policy White Paper would be forgiven for thinking that Australia doesn’t see their country as all that important to its foreign policy. The problem for Australia is that they probably couldn’t care less.

Prime Minister Paul Keating famously said in 1994, “no country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right, and nurture and develop it, the whole web of our foreign relations is incomplete.” Almost all of Keating’s successors have echoed his “no more important relationship” language. Tony Abbott even went so far as to say Australia needs “more Jakarta, less Geneva” and Malcom Turnbull made sure our giant northern neighbour was his first overseas destination.

While most Australian politicians would not be as sweeping as Keating, a good many would accept that Indonesia matters more to Australia than it has for many years and should be a leading priority for Australia in its dealings with the world. That is true, despite (or perhaps because of) the fragile and unpredictable nature of the bilateral relationship.

That is why it is surprising that, although focused on Asia, the Foreign Policy White Paper has relatively little to say about Indonesia. The US is mentioned 95 times, as is China, and India appears 60 times. By contrast, Indonesia receives just 36 mentions, and that includes listings in graphs and tables. There is a half-page anodyne summary of the state of relations with Indonesia but many of the other mentions are only made in passing, for example, listing the location of new diplomatic posts or proposing the strengthening of economic ties with Asian states.
One of the few statements in the white paper about Indonesia that has much substance proposes partnerships with important Asian democracies—implicitly to counter the rise of China. Indonesia is included among them.
To support a balance in the Indo–Pacific favourable to our interests and promote an open, inclusive and rules-based region, Australia will also work more closely with the region’s major democracies, bilaterally and in small groupings. In addition to the United States, our relations with Japan, Indonesia, India and the Republic of Korea are central to this agenda.
This is fine, except that it assumes Indonesia is interested in working closely with Australia. This may not necessarily be true, at least not in the circumstances that now prevail.

Despite its muddled economic policymaking, entrenched corruption and reputation as a minefield for foreign investors, Indonesia is beginning to rise economically. It is also starting to think of itself more ambitiously as a regional power and a future player on the global stage. Its economy will soon be bigger than ours and its enormous population of more than 260 million means that, as its middle class grows, it will become a far more lucrative market as well.

Indonesia’s rise may still be largely aspirational, but it is already accepted wisdom in Jakarta. Influential Indonesians speaking at bilateral dialogues and conferences dealing with the Australia-Indonesian relationship often say, “You need us more than we need you”, or “You now need to show us why you matter”. This reflects the fact that President Joko Widodo (unlike his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono) does not regard his country’s relationship with Australia as a special one. In fact, many among the elite in Indonesia feel that their country should be the senior partner in the bilateral relationship and Australia needs to show why it should be given attention.

Apart from the million-plus tourists it sends every year to Bali, Australia does not have much economic leverage that it can use to convince Indonesians of its importance. It is a low-ranked trading and investment partner for Indonesia, and that is unlikely to change soon, given we invest far more in Luxembourg, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, most other Southeast Asian countries and, famously, New Zealand, than in Indonesia. Likewise, our aid program in Indonesia never gave us much leverage, but it did give us some access and the 2015 aid cuts have reduced that.

The white paper is right, however, in casting China’s hegemonic ambitions in Southeast Asia as central to future foreign policy developments in the region. In fact, it is the emerging superpower of the north that may force Indonesia to look back to us in the south. Deeply embedded anti-Chinese sentiment in Indonesia means that if China’s territorial claims lead to major conflict in the South China Sea, Indonesia will almost certainly side with the US. We will tag along too, as a junior partner, as that is the basic scheme of the white paper: reliance on the US to keep China under control in Asia.

And ASEAN does not offer Indonesia an alternative. Indonesia has long hoped ASEAN would be its vehicle to achieve the regional hegemony it regards as its destiny but ASEAN has begun to unravel. Laos and Cambodia now lean towards China, and thus away from other members. The result is the much-vaunted ASEAN principles of harmony and unanimity can no longer be relied on when it comes to the South China Sea.

So, when trouble comes, Indonesia will be forced to look to the West—and that means the US and, the white paper expects, the deputy sheriff in the deep south.
Unfortunately, the growing distance between our two peoples will undoubtedly prove an obstacle to engagement with our possible future ally. This distance has been demonstrated by the consistent results of a wide range of polls over the last three decades, which all show increasing fear of Indonesia in Australia and hostility towards it. These feelings are sometimes reciprocated by Indonesian suspicion that Australia has neocolonial intentions regarding Papua and Christian areas in eastern Indonesia. Many Australians are also largely unaware that Indonesia is a democracy, and a substantial number even believe, wrongly, that it is ruled by the army or is under Islamic codes.

Indonesia is changing fast and Australia, like Indonesia’s other neighbours, will find the fractious and sometimes tense relations may become the new normal. The challenges ahead for Australia-Indonesia ties are thus considerable at a time of rapid and far-reaching change across Asia, with Indonesia seemingly poised for dramatic transformation.

It is therefore disturbing that that there is no discussion anywhere in the white paper of the need for support for Asian studies and languages, let alone Indonesian studies. There is only the gnomic statement that “we will also increase the use of languages other than English through our digital media”, and the usual glib throw-away about outsourcing Asia literacy to diaspora communities that “have language skills and cultural understanding to assist Australia to deepen ties with other countries”. That rarely works after the first generation and, in this case, ignores the fact that the Indonesian diaspora community here is tiny.

Indonesian studies were once widespread in Australia but are now increasingly isolated and in decline, despite being essential for the deep, intimate and respectful engagement that we will need as Indonesia asserts itself. Unfortunately, the white paper shows little evidence that this is understood. “Working in partnership with Indonesian agencies” and deepening “cooperation on shared interests” will both require significant linguistic and cultural skills but there are increasingly few Australians who still have them.

All in all, Indonesian politicians reading the white paper would be forgiven for forming the view that, in fact, Australia doesn’t see their country as all that important to its foreign policy. The real problem for us is that they probably couldn’t care less.

Tim Lindsey is Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor and Malcolm Smith Professor of Asian Law at the University of Melbourne Law School where he is director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society.
This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.

Negative social media having a a significant impact on Indonesia's youth.

Negative Social Media Content Breeds Intolerance Among Indonesian Youth: Survey

By : Adinda Putri 

Jakarta. Negative content in the form of hate speech, fake news and divisive ethnic and religious sentiments on social media platforms has a major impact on the mindset and behavior of younger Indonesians and often cultivates intolerant attitudes, a survey by Islamic-based think-tank, the Maarif Institute showed.

The survey was conducted among 835 high school students from Jakarta, Bandung in West Java, Semarang in Central Java and Surabaya in East Java during the "#1nDONEsia: Cerdas Bermedia Sosial" ("Smart on Social Media") training seminar, initiated by the Maarif Institute and YouTube Creators for Change.

The survey showed 57 percent of respondents believe that a teenager who is often exposed to negative content tends to develop an intolerant attitude towards people from other backgrounds.

"Hate speech has a major impact on young people in making them act in an intolerant way, while negative content on the internet strongly promotes incidents of intolerance and discrimination," Maarif Institute research director Khelmy Pribadi told the Jakarta Globe on Monday (11/12).

Khelmy said the recent upsurge in ethnic and religious sentiments online, such as the distinction between so-called pribumi (indigenous) and non-pribumi Indonesians, intensifies a negative view of the differences between people, which is very worrying as those in the younger generation use the internet as their main source of information.

"The number indicates that the heaps of negative content on social media negatively impacts the younger generation," Khelmy said.

The worrying trend led YouTube Creators for Change and the Maarif Institute to present a series of seminars to raise awareness and teach participants to actively combat negative content on social media.
According to the survey, some 70 percent of respondents indicated that they would combat negative content on social media, which increased by 20 percentage points by the end of the seminars.

"A concerted cross-sectoral effort is required to counter negative content by spreading positive content on social media, as well as reporting and speaking up against intolerance," Khelmy said.

He added that the younger generation can start by not simply ignoring fake news or negative posts and instead flagging or reporting it, because social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube provide mechanisms for that purpose.
The Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has recorded 13,829 cases of hate speech, 6,973 of fake news stories and 13,120 involving pornographic postings on social media so far this year.

The government had also blocked 782,316 websites as of September.
Recent surveys have showed that Jakarta is the most intolerant city in Indonesia.

Adinda Putri writes for the Jakarta Globe Newspaper

Indonesian Foreign Policy: Blind Spots, Stress Points and Potential Pitfalls

 Jarryd de Haan
Key Points
  • Indonesia has been ignoring its leadership role in ASEAN, even though that organisation has the potential to be a valuable tool for extending Indonesian influence.
  • Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate Islamic country has been tarnished from within, potentially jeopardising its long-standing position as a beacon of Muslim democracy.
  • The increasing appeal of populism to Indonesian politicians could influence foreign policy decision-making in the future.
  • Phantom threats such as “proxy wars”, which are being fed by the suspicions of high-ranking Indonesian officials, are encouraging a protectionist stance in foreign affairs.
  • Indonesia will need to reduce its economic dependence on China to avoid future conflict between its economic interests and its political and security concerns.

Indonesia is growing. Strong economic growth and a swelling middle class have even seen some analysts predict that Indonesia will become a global economic powerhouse behind China, India and the United States. As it moves along that path, Indonesia will continue to
re-shape its strategic outlook and overcome numerous challenges as it seeks further influence in its region and beyond. This paper will examine some of those challenges in the context of foreign policy, specifically, the leadership role that Indonesia needs to fulfil through ASEAN, its position as a Muslim beacon of democracy and the need to reduce its dependence on China by broadening its economic relationships with other countries. Additionally, the appeal of populist policies and phantom threats that are distracting officials from addressing such foreign policy challenges will also be looked at.


ASEAN Needs a Leader

As has been noted in the Strategic Weekly Analysis, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be facing its first real challenges within the next fifty years and will need strong leadership to survive. Currently, that leadership does not exist. While Indonesia is generally accepted as the de-facto leader of ASEAN regardless of where the chairmanship may lie, Indonesia has yet to completely embrace that role, and instead attempts to delegate the responsibility to “collective leadership”. The ideals of collective leadership are closely entwined with the values of the “ASEAN way” – a founding principle of ASEAN that values sovereignty and non-interference in the domestic issues of other states. The “ASEAN way” has unfortunately become an excuse for inaction in the face of pressing regional issues such as the Rohingya refugee crisis. While Malaysia has broken from that tradition and heavily criticised the Myanmar Government for its handling of the issue while providing aid (although perhaps more out of political ambitionthan for genuine concern), ASEAN as a whole has yet to co-ordinate a response to the crisis which has been playing out for more than two years.
ASEAN’s failure to act for fear of offending one of its members is a significant roadblock to the organisation’s future. Without strong leadership, ASEAN could very well dissolve in the face of brewing geo-strategic conflicts such as that between China and the United States. Stronger leadership is needed to encourage responses to regional issues and to pave the way for ASEAN integration.[1] Such an approach will need to be carefully managed, however, as divisive leadership will only serve to destabilise the organisation. Regardless, it will be a foreign policy failure on the part of Indonesia to brush aside its de-facto leadership role, as ASEAN has the potential to be an essential part of Indonesian foreign policy and a valuable tool for exerting influence and maintaining stability in the region.
Moderate Islam under Threat
Since the days of Sukarno, the role of Islam in Indonesian foreign policy has been mostly limited to legitimising policy objectives. Past situations in which Islam has played a minor role in dictating where Indonesian sympathies would be directed include the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Bosnian War and clashes between India and Pakistan. The dynamic of Islam in Indonesian foreign policy, however, has changed radically following reformasiand the post-Suharto era which led to the democratisation of Indonesia.[2] The reformasiprocess established Indonesia as the world’s largest Muslim democracy, leading the government to project itself as both a bridge between the Muslim and Western worlds and as a role model for other Muslim countries. The attacks of 11 September 2001 and the Bali Bombings of 2002 also led the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to shift focus to “Moderate Islam” as the identity of Indonesian Islam, wherein Indonesia’s Islam is moderate, tolerant and compatible with democracy.[3]
From within, however, Indonesia’s moderate Muslim image has been tarnished. Canings for adultery under sharia law, police raids on gay spas and a Christian governor jailed for blasphemy have all hit Australian news headlines this year. Whether or not Indonesian Islam is moving away from its moderate past, the Australian media is certainly portraying that to be the case. The hardline Islamic Defenders Front group has also gained momentum despite government efforts to crack down on such groups that have been deemed to be “anti-Pancasila”. In light of that, the Indonesian Government may wish to be more wary of Wahhabi influences emanating from Saudi Arabia. A previous Strategic Analysis Paper highlighted the potential that Saudi-funded madrasas (Islamic day schools) could have in fuelling an apparent trend of “Arabisation” among Indonesian Muslims. That influence, however, could be subject to change given recent sentiments from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to restore Saudi Islam back to its more moderate roots and to turn away from current radical leanings. Time will tell whether or not MbS is genuine in his pursuits and if that will sway hardline Muslim groups in Indonesia.
It is important at this point to distinguish the difference between Islam as a political ideology and Islam in the public sphere. Islam as a political ideology will remain moderate and tolerant, and will continue to operate in the sphere of foreign policy within the bounds set by the principles of Pancasila. Islamic groups within the public sphere, on the other hand (with the more radical groups tending to be the loudest), will continue to influence foreign policy by pressuring the government on issues related to Muslim causes.[4] In this light, the tarnishing of Indonesia’s position as a moderate Islamic voice could affect its relations with Australia and perhaps the wider Western world, especially if the government becomes more concerned with winning votes at home rather than strengthening relationships abroad. That kind of populist decision-making would be detrimental to Indonesian foreign policy.
Rise of Populism

For decades, experts often agreed that the Indonesian public plays little to no role in the foreign policy decisions made by the government. Recently, however, the public has become more informed about, and interested in, international affairs. The public primarily influences foreign policy through voting and public opinion. Indonesia’s rapidly growing middle class also adds weight to public opinion within the country. The problems associated with foreign policy informed by populism can be seen in the case of US President Donald Trump. Under Trump, relations with Mexico, Cuba and a number of Muslim-majority countries have significantly deteriorated as a result of a protectionist foreign policy focussed on putting “America First”.
In the case of Indonesia, a populist president would likely be affiliated with conservative Muslim groups and would give a stronger voice to groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI). FPI leader and founder Rizieq Shihab is a popular (albeit controversial) figure in Indonesia, with a recent survey [in Bahasa Indonesia], released in October 2017 listing him as the third most popular Indonesian scholar. The same group is also known for spreading fear that Islam in Indonesia is under attack by forces such as communism, and promoting hatred towards such so-called opponents of Islam. The following address by the now General Chairman of FPI, Sobri Lubis, adds the Indonesian Ahmadiyyah Muslim community to the list of those forces:

We call on the Muslim community. Let us go to war with Ahmadiyyah! Kill Ahmadiyyah wherever they are! God is great! God is great! Kill! Kill! Kill! If we do not kill Ahmadiyyah they will destroy our faith.… The blood of Ahmadiyyah is halal (permissible).… If they want to know who is responsible for killing Ahmadiyyah, it is I.… Say that Sobri Lubis ordered it, that Habib Rizieq and FPI ordered it![5]

Any influence that groups such as the FPI may hold on foreign policy decisions made by the government will be opposed to the notion of democracy, damaging to Indonesia’s relations with the West and detrimental to its position as a beacon of Muslim democracy and a moderate voice in international conflicts. Their influence within the Indonesian community, therefore, should also be seen as a concern which could have broad implications in the Indonesian political sphere.
Distractions and Phantom Threats
Indonesian officials and groups often stoke the flames of phantom threats, with one of the more common threats being communism. In September 2017, hundreds of protestors besieged the headquarters of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia: YLBHI) for days after a small group of scholars, lawyers and victims of the 1965 Communist Purge attempted to hold a discussion on the killings that took place between 1956 and 1966. The protestors gathered after rumours spread that those participating in the meeting were trying to revive the Indonesian Communist Party (Partai Komunis Indonesia: PKI). Eventually, the police were called to break up the meeting as protesters shouted ‘Eliminate the PKI!’ Further protests took place the following day, with a number of conservative groups becoming involved, including the FPI, and pushing the number of protesters up towards one thousand and subsequently turning the protests violent. Shortly after the incident, several thousand protesters gathered in Jakarta to rally against a “growing threat” from communism. Professor Tim Lindsay, Director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the Melbourne University Law School, said the following in response to the incident:

The idea that communism might be resurgent is ridiculous in a country that doesn’t even have a leftist political party. Although the PKI was violently obliterated in the mid-sixties, and communism is a dead letter globally which has no popular support in Indonesia, it is alive and well as Indonesia’s No. 1 bogeyman.

Armed forces chief General Gatot Nurmantyo and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu are two officials known for spreading fear over non-existent threats such as communism. Nurmantyo is known for speaking out about “proxy wars” in Indonesia, whether in the form of drugs weakening the youth, communist ideas brainwashing the public or terrorism funded by countries such as Australia [text in Bahasa Indonesia]. It is widely believed in the Australian media that Nurmantyo is using this rhetoric as a means to whip up public support for a possible attempt at the presidency in the next election. Ryacudu, who soon jumped on the “proxy war” bandwagon, has his own ambition to strengthening the influence of the military in domestic affairs.

The majority of these “proxy wars” arise from the idea that Indonesia’s sovereignty and the values enshrined under Pancasila are constantly under threat from external and foreign forces. A recent example on the impact that this stance can have is the partial suspension of military ties with Australia in January 2017. The suspension was instated by Nurmantyo (without consulting President Jokowi) following his visit to a Perth army base where he alleged the Indonesian ideology of Pancasila was insulted and that Indonesian forces were exposed to propaganda material about  Papua. Additionally, instead of focussing on real issues, such as how the military can protect Indonesian maritime assets in the future, Indonesian defence officials are getting caught up in how to combat non-existent or exaggerated threats. The result is that Indonesians are looking inwards for signs of Chinese communist propaganda while China encroaches on Indonesian interests in the South China Sea.

China: Economics Mixed With Politics
Indonesia’s economy benefits heavily from trade, investment and tourism coming from China. Beijing is Jakarta’s largest export market, receiving $22.2 billion worth of exported goods from Indonesia in 2016. While that is at similar levels to the United States ($21.3 billion) and Japan ($21.3 billion), exports to China since 2000 have grown at significantly higher levels, as seen in Figure 1, below.
China is also the third-largest source of direct investment for Indonesia, just behind Japan and Singapore. Indonesia’s tourism sector, which generated revenue of $16.3 billion in 2016 (almost double that of the largest export, petroleum gas), is also led by China. Singapore is the only other country with a significant presence in all three sectors. Looking towards the next decade, China will likely remain in the top two markets for exports, the top three investors for Indonesia and will continue to dominate the tourism industry in Indonesia.

The issue with having a strong economic relationship with China is that economics are often mixed with politics. The overarching Chinese economic policy, the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), is focussed on developing infrastructure and increasing connectivity throughout Eurasia to support a China-centred trade network. That economic goal, however, is closely linked with political ambition. Peter Cair, a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute, notes that, ‘the overarching objective of the [Belt and Road] initiative is helping China to achieve geopolitical goals by economically binding China’s neighbouring countries more closely to Beijing’. Through closer economic ties with Indonesia, China will have greater push and pull when it comes to political or diplomatic affairs. From China’s perspective, closer relations with the de-facto leader of ASEAN and the largest economy in South-East Asia serves a number of geo-political interests. Regardless of whether or not China’s increasing interest in South-East Asia is benign or malignant, Indonesia should avoid putting itself in a position where, without China, its economy is vulnerable. Being in such a position could blind Indonesian leaders to the political ambitions of China, which may come at the expense of Indonesia’s own national interests.


The points presented in this paper are only some of the foreign policy challenges that Indonesia will face on its path towards becoming a true regional, if not global, power. In light of the challenges mentioned above, Indonesia will be remiss if it does not solidify its role as leader in the region through ASEAN. The inner workings of hardline Islam, the draw of populism and the use of phantom threats, on the other hand, are much more intricate issues with few immediate solutions. Diversifying economic relations with countries other than China should not be difficult from Indonesia’s perspective, as it is generally in a favourable position to negotiate trade agreements and investment opportunities with a number of major economies due to its market size and economic strength. If it can do that, it will help to avoid economic dependency on China and any political ramifications that come with that.


Jarryd de Hann is a Research Analyist with the Perth-based Future Directions Int.

( The title of this paper is based on a session of the Conference on Indonesian Foreign Policy 2017, held in Jakarta on 21 October, hosted by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia and attended by the author.

A leap for faith in Indonesia

A high court decision gives state recognition to some 245 traditional faiths, a small but overdue victory for religious freedom


Balinese Hindus pray to celebrate the religious festival Galungan at the Jagat Natha temple in Denpasar on Indonesia's Bali island on November 1, 2017. Balinese Hindu adherents celebrate Galungan Day or the Earth's celebration to thank God for the creation of the Earth and its content. Photo: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka
Balinese Hindus pray to celebrate the religious festival Galungan at the Jagat Natha temple in Denpasar on Indonesia's Bali island on November 1, 2017. Balinese Hindu adherents celebrate Galungan Day or the Earth's celebration to thank God for the creation of the Earth and its content. Photo: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka