Editorial: It’s never business as usual
Paper Edition | Page: 6
The meeting between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin this week follows a predictable pattern. Each leader pushed his and her respective agendas and, as they rarely coincide, the summit produced little in substance.
Gillard, under strong domestic political pressure, wants Indonesia to do more to prevent asylum seekers from the Middle East and South Asia from reaching Australia’s shores. There have been talks about setting up an offshore refugee processing center, either in Indonesia or Timor Leste, to help regulate the waves of “boat people”.
Yudhoyono for his part tried once again to convince the Australian government and business leaders to look at Indonesia as a place to do business. He encouraged them to help with the development of eastern Indonesia.
All Indonesian leaders for years have been making similar sales pitches toward Australia to trade more with Indonesia. But all such requests have fallen on deaf ears. Indonesia is not an important economic partner to Australia — neither is Australia to Indonesia — in spite of their geographic proximity. Both have seen their economies boom independently of one another.
Somehow, we know that potential has always been there and that opportunities have been lost due to neglect on the part of both countries. Critics in Australia lament the fact that Australia treats Indonesia as a poor relation, preferring to deal instead with distant China, which is now its main trading partner. Indonesia is ranked 12th on the list.
Looking at this week’s — and previous — summits, part of the problem is the lack of consensus about what the main agenda in this relationship should be. For Australia, at one time, it was the former East Timor; then it was terrorism; and now it is regional security. It has always been anything but economics.
The Darwin summit has not been a complete waste, however. The Australian grant of four Hercules C-130 transport planes is certainly well appreciated. The focus of the discussions, however, from what we can gather, still revolved around security and political issues and not so much on economics and business.
Historically, economics and business are the main drivers in most relationships between countries. Indonesia and Australia would do well to pay heed to the economic aspects in their relationship if they want to strengthen their ties from “less warm” to “warm”.