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Jakarta Post

Flipping over the boats: Restoring RI-Oz ties

  • Pierre Marthinus

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, February 18, 2014   /  11:12 am

Australian warships will now be frequenting Indonesian waters. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono'€™s diplomatic legacy is now vividly clear: A tradition of diplomatic spinelessness and an Australian bully to the south well intent on trampling over Indonesian sovereignty. Although Sukarno was the one who coined the pejorative phrase, '€œa nation of coolies and a coolie among nations'€, it was obviously Yudhoyono who managed to craft that catchphrase into a diplomatic reality for Indonesians today.

Yudhoyono'€™s tuck-tail diplomacy and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott'€™s bull-headed arrogance is the ultimate recipe for a diplomatic disaster. Currently, bilateral relations are intentionally kept to a simmer, ready to be reheated to its boiling point at a whim.

Yudhoyono'€™s legacy will be a decaying pro-Western political powerhouse that is deeply divided, already conquered, easily bought and goes cheaper by the dozen.

The Democratic Party'€™s (PD) anti-corruption television advertisements trigger both pity and contempt since cast members Angelina Sondakh, Andi Mallarangeng and Anas Urbaningrum are all now ensnared in corruption cases.

The only '€œdiversity'€ within Yudhoyono'€™s handpicked Cabinet seems to be that the Islamists prefer dinars while the neoliberal pseudo-nationalists prefer American dollars.

This might seem counterintuitive for Yudhoyono'€™s logic, but taking tangible actions to immediately hurt strategic Australian interests will go a long way toward improving healthy bilateral relations.

 The sooner strong actions are taken to hurt strategic Australian interests, the sooner bilateral relations can bounce back. Without any strong retaliatory measures, those in Canberra will never realize the full worth of the wonderful bilateral ties it once had with Indonesia. A relationship that costs nothing will always weigh nothing in Canberra'€™s future cost and benefit calculations.

Jakarta needs to send a clear diplomatic signal that cannot be misinterpreted, spun or downplayed by Canberra. The severing of ties with Canberra should be extended into other strategic areas of cooperation.

The wider framework of counterterrorism cooperation, Australian permits for development-cum-espionage projects in eastern Indonesia and the live cattle and boxed beef trade should be placed firmly on the sacrificial altar to show that Jakarta really means business.

Beef trade '€” not counterterrorism '€” would be the hardest luxury to sacrifice from Jakarta'€™s point of view. Indonesia'€™s shameful dependency on Australian beef imports is also thanks to Yudhoyono'€™s own handpicked '€œnationalist-religious'€ team of ministers.

Entrusting the national beef self-sufficiency program to an Islamist minister whose political party had been deeply embroiled in beef corruption cases and allowing neoliberal pseudo-nationalist ministers to let '€œmarket prices'€ dictate import quotas was Yudhoyono'€™s sleight of hand.

Of course, '€œmarket price'€ simply means aiming to achieve the lowest possible beef price standards to allow for a huge influx of Australian beef imports.

At the height of the spying row, Yudhoyono'€™s ministers increased cattle import permits by 66 percent for 2014 '€” an increase most likely to be filled by a country that had unilaterally halted beef exports, sending prices through the roof, ahead of the holy month of Ramadhan in 2011: Australia.

Yudhoyono will now be forced to choose between catering to top-down Western interests '€” his errand boy routine '€” or accommodating the nationalist aspirations of 240 million Indonesians claiming their rightful place and representation in a globalized world. This dilemma will play out into the 2014 elections in three key strategic areas: energy, mining and the diplomatic standoff with Australia.

Bad decisions on any of these areas will most likely condemn Yudhoyono'€™s party, his '€œpolitical dynasty'€ and his own political career to the backwater of Indonesian politics. Further failure by Yudhoyono to take strong action against Australian strategic interest will result in a '€œcarryover'€, a '€œspillover'€ and a '€œboilover'€ effect.

A '€œcarryover'€ effect refers to Indonesia'€™s desperate search for a high-note strong nationalist closure to the spying row from the next presidency. Presidential hopefuls with low popularity and the most questionable human rights track record can look more vote-worthy once they take up the anti-Australian rhetoric '€” '€œthe Abbott effect'€.

A '€œspillover'€ refers to the discrediting of broader relations with Western powers in general. Any hypocritical facade of equality and national sovereignty in dealing with Western powers '€” which Yudhoyono had painstakingly built over his two presidencies '€” will be shattered to pieces. It will affirm long held perceptions that power relations are so asymmetrical to the point that Western powers '€” even lesser ones like Australia '€” can do anything they please without Jakarta having the ability to retaliate at all.

Should this infuriating image come into play within the Indonesian public imagination, expect greater sustained public pressures to downgrade cooperation on other areas of cooperation '€” impacting not only Australia, but also the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

A '€œboilover'€ effect refers to Indonesians forming a stronger opinion of Australia, shifting away from their ambivalent attitudes and actually acting on those opinions. Indonesia'€™s international rise, as many note, is starting to take effect on the national psyche.

Indonesian senior diplomats and leading academics find Australian arrogance and insistence on '€œflipping over the boats'€ to be extremely infuriating. Ikrar Nusa Bhakti of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), teases out why a more '€œbalanced diplomatic'€ response targeting other Western powers, especially the US, has not been considered (Kompas, Nov. 22, 2013).

His article was accompanied by a picture of a handheld globe being sliced by a knife on the Indonesian-Australian border '€” a not-so-subtle hint of the editorial preference of Indonesia'€™s leading daily, Kompas.

Hikmahanto Juwana, a professor of international law at the University of Indonesia, called Australia'€™s policy '€œinsulting'€ and has repeatedly called for declaring Australian Ambassador Greg Moriarty persona non grata.

Those voicing the strongest criticisms are simply trying to give Canberra a heads-up of what is being discussed behind most closed doors since the spying row took place.

Ambassador Moriarty obviously deserves an honorary persona non grata for his stellar performance. Australian permits to work in eastern Indonesia, especially on development projects in Papua, need to be frozen until a new intelligence code of conduct has been agreed upon.

As for the beef trade, the Indonesian middle class would surely prefer eating chicken in dignity and most can afford Japanese premium Wagyu beef. Contrary to what the Indonesian Trade Ministry says, poor people do not die from a shortage of beef and no nationwide revolutions have ever been staged due to one.

The Indonesian middle class yearns for one commodity that Yudhoyono has continuously failed to provide and cannot simply be imported from Australia: national dignity.


The writer is executive director for the Marthinus Academy in Jakarta

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