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The Forum > Article Comments > A very difficult relationship: living with Indonesia > Comments

A very difficult relationship: living with Indonesia : Comments

By Richard Woolcott, published 4/8/2006

Australia must pursue a more balanced, less self-righteous approach to Indonesia.

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Very nice piece.

It is all too easy to focus on the fundamentalist minority - what is ignored, is the very large Indonesian muslim culture that can only be described as progressive - with an attitude much more culturally aware and to the 'left' than the vast majority of Australians give them credit for.

It is refreshing to see an article that takes into account the subtle nuances of international politics. I still shudder, when I think of President Bush actually branding a whole raft of countries as an 'axis of evil'.
This idiocy was only compounded by Howard's deputy sheriff comments. I'm relieve Bush didn't go one further and add Indonesia to his axis.
Posted by TurnRightThenLeft, Friday, 4 August 2006 10:35:46 AM
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Nicely wrong TRTL

Woolcott adheres to the typical DFAT "we must be nice to everybody" approach. This is a good veneer for Australian public consumption.

It is true, as Woolcott suggests we should be sensitive to emerging democratic tendencies in Indonesia. However I think what really drives our relationship is realpolitik including force. Indonesia is still largely controlled by the Indonesia military (Indonesia leader "SBY" is an ex General) - hence ruling Indonesians professionally respect force.

Indonesia would not have exited East Timor in 1999 if Australia (and the US in the background) had been nice and accommodating. Most of what Woolcott has written in the past suggests he believes Australia should never have militarily intervened even over the Indonesian Army (TNI) directed slaughter of East Timorese.

The natural tendency of recent Indonesian governments has been to tolerate jihadist Muslims until they have killed a substantial number of foreigners. It is glaringly obvious that Woolcott does not wish to mention the "B word" Bali. Moderate Indonesian governments including SBY have followed a policy of appeasing jihadist Muslim elements like JI (a political threat). These governments have virtually treated JI's leader (Bashir) like a (Gandhi type) elder statesman. It has only been US and Australian political pressure (and money) that has persuaded Indonesia to arrest or kill some jihadists before they kill more Australians.

So while Woolcott has a bilateral niceness position (good for public consumption) this obscures what really drives Australian-Indonesian relations.

Posted by plantagenet, Friday, 4 August 2006 11:03:58 AM
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Very wrong to pretend our neighbour is something he is not.
A totalitarian, racist, pro-jihad military regime is on our door step and in control of 5% of the continental Australian landmass. That military is 70% self-funding through its ownership of banks, mills, construction companies, sale of arms & munitions, sale of military services to mine foreign companies, and a protection racketeer against small businesses, to name a few of the 'businesses' which TNI officers operate.

President Yudhoyono whose election you highlight as a example of democracy is also General Yudhoyono who was one of the two senior officers in charge of East Timor during its final 6 months of Indonesian rule while "Operation Scorched Earth" was being planned and prepared for.
When Gen. Yudhoyono did 'retire' he became a Minister for internal affairs and oversaw a brutal three year TNI reprisal against Aceh in which most of its schools and hospitals were burnt to the ground. That is why the country was in such bad condition at the time of the tsunami.
Since Gen. Suharto decided to retire and live off the $3b he stashed into personal overseas bank accounts and hundreds of billions he'd pumped into family owned business operations during his 30 years as President; we have seen the TNI cycle through his replacements.

Mr Habibie was rejected for poor economic management; Mr Wahid rejected for going ahead with the East Timor plebiscite; the old school of iron rule by Sukarno's daughter Megawati as she told the TNI to forget about previous talk of human rights and that their first duty was to enforce the unity of the state was welcome but she made a huge mistake on 20/Sept/2001 while in Washington she told GW Bush she would support his war against terrorism, Jakarta saw two weeks of anti-US protests until Megawati renounced the US war, so eventually another TNI General was installed as President again, trained in the US but with a dark history.

Darker is the history of Corporate America working with the Generals, corruption by the powerful few is the root of our woes.
Posted by Daeron, Friday, 4 August 2006 1:07:43 PM
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I agree that Australia's stance is far too submissive in many instances - take the case of the Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Japanese fishermen who were caught whaling in Australian/Antarctic waters.

As Japan is a key trading partner, Australia declined to prosecute and simply returned them to Japan, where they were promptly released without charge.

I can't help but feel this kind of attitude breeds contempt for Australia in Japan - you can be damn sure the Japanese wouldn't tolerate it if the shoe was on the other foot.

But Pete/Plantagenet - Indonesia is another kettle of fish entirely. The population is dirt poor, yet its size and variety is something that very few Australians have been confronted with.
It's easy to say 'look here, it's the world's biggest muslim nation! Quick! strongarm them before they get uppity!' but this is a mistake. It is stupidity.

Before I continue - let me say that I strongly disagree with allowing Indonesia to dictate our foreign policy, as was the case with the papuan asylum seekers - that kind of action does breed contempt, and the assumption that Indonesia can interfere with Australian politics.

Take a look at the nations that have governments that have been interfered with by the Americans.
How many of them are friendly to the US today?
Australia needs to show a cordial level of respect to Indonesia without strongarm military tactics.
This 'show them whose boss' crap just gets us in more trouble, and if you can learn anything from muslim militants or 'terrorists' it's that you can't fight the war conventionally. You try force, you get retaliation. You try persuasion, and you get much further.
Posted by TurnRightThenLeft, Friday, 4 August 2006 2:11:32 PM
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Unfortunately Australia strongarms the fishermen because they are poor and easy targets who need some kind of dissuading ; whereas colonization which is a crime, the employment and training of jihadist terrorist conducting ethnic cleansing, and the various other colonial abuses of the TNI Generals and Jakarta government for the benefit of Jakarta ; is never even mentioned by the Australian government.

The difference is that powerful American corporations put the TNI Generals into power and share the looting of the colonies; from Exxon in Sumatra & Borneo, Newmont in the Celebes, Conoco Philips in Timor, Freeport McMoRan in Papua; and servicing all of these companies is Bechtel.

Yes, Bechtel, A.K.A. backdoor to the CIA Directors, manufacturer of nuclear power plants for the U.S., and the company that designed and built the Grasberg mine for Freeport McMoRan among others. Also head of the "US Indonesia Society" which works with the TNI Generals to promote Indonesia as a democracy rather than the colonial military power that it is.

You must understand whom & what you are dealing with before you can decide the best course.

Myself, I suggest as members of the United Nations, that we allow the UN conduct the act of self-determination which the people of West Papua have never been allowed to have. You can read what the UN actually said about the false 'Act of Free Choice' in UN GA 2504, and you can read what a real act of self-determination requires in UN GA 1541 both of which you can find at bottom of the page.
Posted by Daeron, Friday, 4 August 2006 3:27:23 PM
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I hear what you say. Moderate diplomacy (extolled by Woolcott) is useful day to day and even in a crisis usually operates simultaneously with what I call "national security instruments". I never labeled Indonesia as Muslim. Note that the last shots (intentionally) fired between Indonesia and Australia occured in the 1960s and a resurgence of direct conflict it furthest from my mind.

The problem with Woolcott is not only what he says here but what he represents. He comes from the elitist "privelege and pleasure" school of DFAT that:
- doesn't mention disturbing facts such as continuing military dominance in Indonesia (just below the surface)and
- declines to mention the key issues in bilateral relations since 1999 which have been the Bali bombings and the Bali drug trials.

He has decided to remain a self appointed Indonesia expert (who strongly influenced Keating's 'we are the apologetic whites of Asia' approach (eg. calling Suharto father). While Woolcott's thoughts stood still still violent events happened that his softly softly mindset still cannot come to grips with.

From 1999 bodies like the AFP and Defence moved decisively dragging Downer's softly softly DFAT crowd with them.

An examplle of DFAT's out of touch nature is this. The day before the East Timor independence vote became public I talked to a senior DFAT person who was genuinely convinced that the Indonesian military/militias in East Timor would not turn on the East Timorese people.

I was no expert (only a public servant in the Department of Communications) but I said "Why wouldn't the military/militia's be violent? They always have been before." He looked jaded and embarrassed the next day.

Yes Indonesia is different from us and has more people. It is more a culture dominated by a military Javanese caste than a Muslim country. Muslim groupings (notably al Qaeda linked JI) in the country have always disputed this caste's dominance.

Day to day diplomacy has its place, but should always be balanced by a national security capability, like the AFP and Defence, when things go wrong.

Posted by plantagenet, Friday, 4 August 2006 5:06:18 PM
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