Indonesia is the center of Australia’s renewed focus on increasing regional engagement in Asia, an
Australian Secretary of Defense Dennis Richardson said that boosting engagement with the region was one of the themes of the defense white paper currently being drafted in Canberra.
“We will see a renewed focus in the region, and at the center of that is, of course, Indonesia,” he said in his Sarsono-Tambunan Memorial Lecture, titled “The Indonesia-Australia Defense Relationship in the Asian Century” on Wednesday.
The Australian government believes that there are a number of important developments taken under consideration for the renewal of their defence white paper. Among them is the drawdown of Australian troops in Afghanistan.
“The continuing shift in economic and strategic weight to Asia, the continued impact of the global financial crisis, and the US rebalance to the region,” were also significant factors, Richardson added.
Indonesian-Australian defense relations suffered a major setback in 1999 in regards to the East Timor ( now Timor Leste ) referendum crisis that marked the end of Indonesian annexation.
Richardson said he believed that it was in the best interest of Australia to work with Indonesia, considering its population of 240 million and relatively larger economy in terms of purchasing power parity.
“That will be an interesting psychological test for Australia because historically we have never lived in a neighborhood where we would have a neighbor with a bigger economy than ours. That will be an interesting psychological adjustment,” he added.
Australian last produced a defence white paper in 2009. Article 4.33 states that “although considered less likely, a weak, fragmented Indonesia beset by intractable communal problems, poverty and failing state institutions, would potentially be a source of threat to our own security and to Indonesia’s other neighbors”.
It goes on to say that “An authoritarian or overly nationalistic regime in Jakarta would also create strategic risks for its neighbors”.
It will be interesting to see whether the same strategic risks will be reflected in the new white paper, slated to be completed in the second quarter of 2013.
“We won’t always share the same perspectives. Indonesia rightly has its own traditions. You rightly have your own sense of the world. And you rightly have your own history which shape your perspectives. Likewise, we have ours,” Richardson said. ( ASW )