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Jakarta Post

Notes on why Australia deserves it

Pierre Marthinus and Isidora Happy Apsari
Jakarta   ●   Thu, November 21, 2013

Canberra needs to realize that it fully deserves Jakarta'€™s diplomatic hostility. Australian media and think tanks continue to downplay the issue, accusing Jakarta of being a drama queen over nothing.

This is certainly not the case this time. Six things should be understood about Indonesia'€™s growing assertiveness in dealing with Canberra'€™s sustained transgressions.

First, it has more to do with Indonesia getting tough rather than it trying to soften up Australia. Claims that Indonesia is just testing the diplomatic waters, sizing up the new Australian leadership and keeping it on its toes misrepresent the fact that Jakarta could not care less about Australia'€™s leadership transition '€” or anything else that happening down under for that matter.

As Indonesia'€™s economic power and international standing rises, it will toughen up and increase its diplomatic rhetoric in both tone and volume.

Second, that the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono raised his voice shows how serious Canberra'€™s transgressions are being perceived. Yudhoyono holds no grudge against Australia and is adamantly pro-West, overly cautious, timid and non-confrontational to the point of being seen as fainthearted and spineless. Despite being a domestic liability, these characteristics are great political assets that have made him a darling of the international community.

Domestically, he is seen as a reform-minded desk general that is neither aggressive nor threatening toward national politicians and toward the military itself. When offended, he might write several melancholic songs, release an album or endlessly whine about it in an official speech.

However, he is certainly not one to hold a grudge, let alone exhibit it publicly to the international community for personal reasons.

Third, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is not sucking up to his boss; he is simply doing his job. He has no reason to curry favor with a president that will be out of office in seven months.

When Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) ministers, the most openly belligerent toward Yudhoyono, go virtually unpunished for criticizing the President, Marty really has nothing to worry about.

His choice to disclose information about his meeting with Australian counterpart Julie Bishop was actually commendable and stayed true to Jakarta'€™s democratic and transparent notions of diplomacy, in stark contrast to Australia'€™s coarse spying practices.

Just like Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo and Basuki '€œAhok'€ Tjahaja Purnama (Jakarta governor and deputy governor, respectively) who regularly upload videos of their meetings to YouTube to avoid slander, defamation and intimidation from local urban thugs, Marty'€™s disclosure was a good way to maintain integrity and avoid similar unwanted actions from Canberra in the future.

The fact that Germany and Brazil pressed the spying issue also helped Jakarta hop on the bandwagon.

Fourth, the 2014 elections should not be used to justify ignoring deteriorating bilateral relations.

If anything, threats from Jakarta to Australia should be taken more seriously since there is a high chance of them being transferred to the next leadership '€” most likely to be running on a more nationalist political platform.

With neighbors like Australia, it'€™s not too hard to imagine Prabowo Subianto as a potential suitor for
Indonesia'€™s next presidency.

Fifth, it has less to do with a colonial legacy of Indonesian victimhood and more to do with Australia'€™s own cultural insensitivities. The Javanese conception of power is that power comes from within.

This explains Jakarta'€™s security orientation that is directed inward as well as its understanding of Wawasan Nusantara '€” an Indonesian rendition of mare nostrum, an internal sea that connects rather than divides the archipelago.

The most refined wayang shadow puppet protagonists have their heads bowed down, eyes small and downcast and are inward looking and introspective.

Their movements are slow and subtle, effortless glides, with the most polite expressions of complex thoughts. Using Australian understandings, such as a '€œState of Origin'€ roughing-up analogy, to explain Indonesia'€™s foreign policy misses the mark completely.

Although an '€œodd diplomatic jab might explain much more than years of cocktail discussions'€, Jakarta really has no interest in test-poking the kangaroo. If one looks into Jakarta'€™s regional role in ASEAN, it becomes obvious that Indonesia'€™s diplomatic tradition is one that values '€œdozens of years of coffee talks'€ instead.

In contrast, Canberra'€™s crass spying is the symbolic epitome of the antagonist wayang characters, the brute with protruding outward-looking eyes bulging out of their sockets, unrefined, unreflective, emotionally unstable and malevolent.

Indonesia'€™s conception of mandala denotes power emanating from the center, skirmishes at the border are tolerated, but not in the capital '€” and certainly not in the inner core. The fact that Australia'€™s espionage had targeted Yudhoyono'€™s inner circle, the kedaton core of the Indonesia keraton, makes it all the more unacceptable.

Access to strategic insider information on political concession-making, coalition-building and '€œdirty laundry'€ will give Canberra an opportunity for political blackmailing, bullying and intimidation, as it had allegedly done toward Dili in Timor Leste.

Six, Canberra really needs to realize that it has trampled over one of the most sacred and cherished of all Indonesian diplomatic principles, non-intervention.

Jakarta had been extremely forbearing regarding Australia'€™s interference in a wide range of issues such as human rights, asylum seekers, terrorism and Papua.

Canberra needs to realize that it is not as powerful, as strategic
and as indispensable as the US to actually get away with such trespasses. Simply put, the Australian brute is not welcome within the keraton walls unless it can behave accordingly.

Jakarta needs to seek an explanation from the Australian Ambassador Greg Moriarty and unequivocally declare him persona non grata if a satisfactory one is not given.

Furthermore, Jakarta must immediately freeze and review all of Australia'€™s permits to work on any development programs in eastern Indonesia, especially in Papua.

Pierre Marthinus and Isidora Happy Apsari are, respectively, executive director and vice executive director for the Marthinus Academy.