The Jakarta Post
The plan to waive the visa requirement for visitors from Australia, previously aimed at attracting more foreign tourists, has been dropped amid concerns surrounding repeated turbulence over Jakarta-Canberra diplomatic ties.
The government had only proceeded with the visa-free policies for Chinese, Russian, South Korean and Japanese tourists, Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Indroyono Soesilo said on Thursday.
'We have confirmed the visa-free policy for Japanese citizens. Russia and South Korea will follow suit soon. For China, we have three months to finalize everything,' he said.
Tourists from these countries can currently visit Indonesia with a visa on arrival.
Indroyono assured that the counterpart countries would provide similar facilities to Indonesians.
According to him, Japan was already in the process of passing a visa-waiver policy for Indonesian e-passport holders traveling to Japan for fewer than 15 days. China was also working on a similar policy.
'Russia and South Korea have also been principally okay,' he said.
The minister confirmed that the plan to provide similar services for Australians had been dropped but declined to explain the reason behind the move.
'For Australians, the visa on arrival is enough,' Indroyono said.
Australia, which contributes about 10 percent of foreign tourist arrivals in Indonesia, has had many ups and downs in its relationship with Indonesia.
A high-ranking ministry official said that political reasons were behind the decision to exclude Australia from the new visa policy.
'Giving free visas to Australians may bring more detriment than benefit. Besides, Bali would still be their favorite destination anyway. I don't think a visa on arrival fee of around US$35 would be a burden for any Australian tourist,' the official said.
The latest episode of the Jakarta-Canberra diplomatic saga occurred earlier this month following President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo's decision to execute all drug inmates on death row, including two Australians.
Two months earlier, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi slammed Australia's unilateral decision to reject any refugees who registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR ) in Indonesia after July 1, 2014.
But the lowest point in the two countries' diplomatic ties in the past 15 years occurred in 2013 when attempts by Australian intelligence to spy on Indonesia by tapping the phones of then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle in 2009 were revealed.
Angered, Yudhoyono decided to freeze cooperation between the two countries on defense and intelligence sharing until a code of conduct on spying could be enacted in August last year, two months before he handed over the presidency to Jokowi.
In a text message sent to The Jakarta Post late on Thursday, Indroyono denied any political reason behind the decision to exclude Australia from the visa-free policy. 'It's simply because Australia does not implement a similar policy to almost all countries,' he said.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno echoed Indroyono's statement. 'We have already given them a visa on arrival, so let's just leave it that way,' he told the Post, refusing to answer when asked if it was because Australia was unable to reciprocally waive visas for Indonesians.
The new visa policy plan came as Jokowi set an ambitious target of attracting 20 million foreign tourists annually by 2019 amid concerns that Indonesia's lure for foreign tourists was falling behind that of its ASEAN neighbors.
Indonesia recorded 8.8 million foreign tourists in 2013, only about one third of the 25.72 million foreign tourists visiting Malaysia in the same year and the 26.55 million visiting Thailand.