Wednesday, April 2, 2014

More from the front lines: Australia-Indonesian relations not that great lately

Things have been tense for a while between Indonesia and Australia, thanks in part to the highly publicized case of convicted drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, the issue of “boat people” and the Bali process, and the Edward Snowden spying revelations.  Wati forwarded me an email from Imron Cotan, former Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, urging her and other colleagues to read a March 25th op-ed piece he wrote for the Jakarta Post entitled Trust deficit taxing Indonesia-Australia relations.

It’s an interesting article and urges leaders in Australia and Indonesia to work together to repair the “trust issue” that has developed between the two countries, and in effect put these three latest (and distracting) issues in proper perspective and concentrate on developing a better understanding of each other’s social history, culture and mode of governance—all of which is given little attention despite a commonality of proximity and democracy.

Wati shared with me some correspondence regarding this article she had with a colleague who is emeritus professor of history at the University of Queensland. Both Wati and her colleague agree that Indonesia-Australia relations since the beginning of Indonesia’s independence have been less than great. Australians have always remained insular and “foreigner-wary,” and Indonesians have acted unilaterally on issues that at times had far broader repercussions. As Wati says, “both countries have waxed hot and cold.” And they both agree that Indonesia should build up its leadership status among ASEAN nations.

But they also both concede that despite Pak Imron’s status as “one of Indonesia’s best diplomats,” neither Australia nor Indonesia will develop a mutually trusting and positive relationship unless it is in the strategic (economic, political) interests of one or both countries.  As Wati says, “My father always reminded us regarding relations between nations: ‘There are no permanent friends or enemies. The only thing permanent is self-interest." 

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