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Jakarta Post

Boxing roo foreign policy in Asia

  • Pierre Marthinus and Isidora Happy Apsari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, December 5, 2013   /  09:51 am

Australia'€™s unnecessary intransigence is fast pushing Indonesia toward directions that neither Canberra nor Jakarta wants. Is playing politics with foreign policy issues that are extremely sensitive to Indonesian sovereignty really worth it?

Ironically, Australia has blotted out the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from participating in Australia'€™s National Broadband Network (NBN) under concerns of potential espionage that might compromise Australian national security.

China has also lashed out very strongly on Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop'€™s '€œirresponsible'€ comment regarding the East China Sea air defense zone (Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 27, 2013).

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott needs to start counting the real costs and potential benefits of his '€œboxing roo'€ foreign policy in Asia.

Domestically, it is now clear that the Indonesian public will most likely look for strong nationalist credentials in the 2014 presidential elections. Currently, Jakarta Governor Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo tops the chart in polls and media surveys conducted.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the game of brandishing nationalist credentials and chest-thumping a strong stance against an interventionist Australia, Jokowi might be trailing behind former Army'€™s Special Forces (Kopassus) commander Prabowo Subianto.

Unlike the green-horned Jokowi, Prabowo has a more vivid memory of East Timor (now Timor Leste), a firm idea of Indonesian sovereignty and an unwavering stance on how to best protect it from Canberra'€™s political and military intervention.

Ironically, those who despise Australia'€™s stubbornness the most will be neither Muslim radicals nor power-hungry generals, they will be the liberals and the democrats that had pushed for democratic reform so eagerly from within. The political democratic proximity of Jakarta and Canberra'€™s domestic politics should never be downplayed.

Regionally, Australia'€™s actions might nudge Jakarta slightly toward Beijing in the long term and vice versa. To date, Indonesian conceptions of China had been somewhat cautious and confused between a '€œcuddly dragon'€ and a '€œmenacing panda'€.

The South China Sea dispute, although important for ASEAN and ranks highly in our diplomatic agenda, can seem rather distant for the nationalist politicians and lawmakers in Jakarta at times.

For many Indonesian academics and ministries, China'€™s checkbook diplomacy long eclipsed Japan. Beijing'€™s aid policy refrains from imposing the '€œall strings attached to your neck'€ clause that Western powers so often have in fine print.

The China National Petroleum Cooperation (CNPC) had finished their gas pipeline crossing from Myanmar, the current ASEAN chairman, to China'€™s Yunnan province, earlier this year. Cambodia allegedly had practiced more '€œdealership'€ than '€œleadership'€ in their chairmanship, selling out other ASEAN member country'€™s interests to Beijing.

Despite all this, Indonesia had always been the volunteer fire brigade, evident in its shuttle diplomacy on the South China Sea dispute and its eagerness to incorporate Timor Leste into ASEAN when Dili opened the gates for Beijing.

The fact that Indonesia is the lead country for the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) also means that Canberra needs to crunch in the numbers and calculate again more carefully.

Internationally, Indonesia'€™s global standing as a responsible and assertive democratic power had been risked when both countries has floored their gas pedal in the chicken game '€” and lost when President Susilo Bambang Yuhoyono failed to follow through on his threats. Yudhoyono utterly failed to create yet another legacy '€” a strong statement that there is no price tag on Indonesian sovereignty and that any form of transgressions will have costs and consequences that outweigh any perceived benefits.

A look into Canberra'€™s rhetoric implies '€œthe logic of consequences'€ with shrug responses such as '€œeveryone else is doing it'€, '€˜'€˜the US is doing it'€, '€œwe are doing it because we can'€, and '€œwe are doing it because we had to'€.

In contrast, Jakarta'€™s rhetoric implies '€œthe logic of appropriateness'€ with responses that '€œfriends don'€™t do this to each other'€ and '€œwe do not do it because it is inappropriate'€. Simply put, costs and consequences are the only language that Canberra understands best at the moment.

Jakarta needs to come up with tangible measures that disrupts Australian interest where it hurts the most. So when Australia says that they have got our back but are spying during peace time, Jakarta needs to tread ever so carefully. The spying debacle has taught us that Canberra might '€œdo it simply because they can'€.

Intelligence cooperation on security, terrorism and military war games are unlikely to continue any time soon since they require a level of systems synchronization that is far too intimate given the current state of bilateral relations.

Non-cooperation on asylum seekers is in order. Indonesia should use the rights-oriented concept of asylum seekers consistently since they carry different political implications from the more sovereignty-oriented concept of people smuggling that criminalizes the issue.

Since Australia focuses its development programs on Eastern Indonesia, Indonesia will need to practice extreme caution and assume the worst of intentions.

Jakarta must immediately freeze and review all Australian permits for development programs in Eastern Indonesia, especially Papua, until an intelligence code of conduct have been agreed upon.

Former US diplomat Kurt Campbell points out that bilateral relations between Jakarta and Canberra can be expected to go through a rough '€œritual quality'€ in the next few months. In Indonesia, the seemingly irrational '€œritual'€ for a chicken thief caught red-handed is a merciless collective public beating. The thief is sometimes doused with petrol and set ablaze '€” or thrown into the nearest river on a good day, it really depends on the mood of the crowd.

From an Indonesian understanding, the act of stealing itself is actually tolerated under compelling situations and good moral cause. In fact, shrewdness and tact are taught early on through children stories of kancil, a mouse-deer that steals cucumber.

However, the ignorance of getting caught is the one sin considered most unforgivable. This might be hard to understand for the ordinary Australian. But for a nation placed under colonialism for hundreds of years, the act of stealing could mean '€œdinner'€ while the act of getting caught often mean '€œthe loss of a family member'€ '€” hence, the brutal self-inflicted punishment.

The Indonesian childhood kancil song oddly ends with the tough-love motherly wisdom that '€œonce caught, show it no mercy'€. Canberra needs to listen closely and determine whether Jakarta'€™s silence is a sign of forgiveness '€” or the sound of Garuda diving in for the kill.

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

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