Monday, January 09, 2017

Stick To Strangling Chickens

Australia's post-colonial angst, along with ghosts of the Suharto era, plus Jokowi's struggle to stay on top, all figure in a new strain in the countries' defense relationship

What offended the complainant, a Kopassus lieutenant, was the use of what he considered to be a derogatory Wikipedia biography of the late Sarwo Edhie Wibowo, former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s father-in-law. 
The legendary special forces general, whose own son also later commanded the elite regiment, led the purge against the Communist Party of Indonesia in the mid-1960s which claimed the lives of an estimated 500,000 people. He also oversaw the so-called Act of Free Choice, a United Nations-sanctioned referendum – albeit involving only 1,025 Papuan leaders – under which the former Dutch-controlled territory reverted to Indonesian rule in 1969... 
The Wibowo biography was not the only source of the lieutenant’s wrath. He was also upset over a poster on a wall at the Australian Special Air Service’s Perth headquarters, which ridiculed Pancasila, the ideology that defines Indonesia as a secular state. The offending poster instead referred to it as Pancagila, the last five letters making the Indonesian word for ‘crazy’, and replaced the five principles of Pancasila with snide references to corruption.

Australian Defence Association spokesman Neil James believes there are deeper reasons for the breakdown of military co-operation and described the saga as a "storm in a tea cup". 
"The new Indonesia chief of defence force equivalent is perhaps not as pro-Australian as some his predecessors," he told AAP. 
"There's an unfortunate tendency in Australia, particularly in academic and diplomatic circles, every time there is a dispute between Australia and Indonesia, there is an instinctive reaction by many ... to say 'it must be our fault'. But just as often it's not our fault."

That a somewhat eccentric army chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, could single-handedly create such chaos and confusion that the political leadership in both Indonesia and Australia were unable to say for several days whether military co-operation between our nations had been cancelled is gravely concerning... 
Australia has been fortunate that the recent Indonesian leadership has been more inclined than its military to maintain strong neighbourly relations despite the provocations offered by former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard (abrupt cessation of live cattle exports) and her Labor rival former prime minister Kevin Rudd (attempting to bug ­former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s mobile phone). 
Current President Joko Widodo has proven just as amiable but that doesn’t mean we can take Indonesia’s goodwill for granted. 
Clearly there are political fault lines Gatot has been ­opportunistically exploiting.

To be sure, these sensitivities are sometimes overhyped, as this latest controversy has arguably proven (See: “Old Shadows in New Australia-Indonesia Military Spat”). But these tensions have nonetheless dealt blows to the relationship, at times even to the point of rupture. 
In spite of occasional tensions and crises, it is also true that both countries have increasingly grown to appreciate the significance of the other and understand that a broader and deeper overall relationship, including in the defense realm, can help build the confidence for better ties. For instance, in Australia’s 2016 Defense White Paper, what was interesting was not the fact that Indonesia was characterized as “vital,” (Canberra has long been assailed by naysayers who claim that this sort of praise sets unrealistically high expectations for ties), but rather that this vitality was viewed as being based not just its traditional geostrategic importance, but also its growing potential in the economic, diplomatic, and military realms as well. 
Second and more specifically, preserving bilateral defense ties is additionally significant because of the inroads that have already been made in recent years in spite of this prickly past. Over the past decade, the two countries have taken some significant steps to strengthen the architecture of their military relationship to institutionalize and regularize interactions at the highest levels, thereby promoting trust and better insulating ties against further downturns.

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