Subject: Indonesia's Sense of Betrayal by Australia Still Lingers

The Australian 28 June 2000

A nation's sense of betrayal lingers

By ROBERT GARRAN, Defence writer

THE crowds have gone from outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, but the anger against Australia among the Indonesian political class over its stand on East Timor is still palpable.

Among the many consequences from the East Timor crisis, this resentment is the most significant for Australia's future security.

The Howard Government is the first Australian administration since the Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia in the early 1960s to actively oppose Indonesia on an important foreign policy issue. The price has been that Indonesians now feel a deep sense of betrayal over Australia's role in East Timor.

After almost a quarter of a century of support for Indonesia's occupation of the territory, Indonesians seem to have little understanding of the reasons for Australia's change of heart, or the depth of popular support for the change. We are two countries still struggling to understand each other.

The reasons for Australia's intense interest in East Timor are well-known: East Timor had for 25 years been the lightning rod for public discontent with Australian foreign policy. Remembering the strong support the Timorese gave Australian commandos during the 1942 fight against the Japanese, many Australians never accepted the Whitlam government's abandonment of East Timor to Indonesia in 1975; combined with the Government's reluctance to come clean over the deaths of five Australian-based journalists at Balibo in October 1975, these concerns grew.

But, in spite of the importance of Australia's bilateral relationship with Indonesia, John Howard was prepared first to write to then president B.J. Habibie to propose an act of self-determination for the East Timorese and, nine months later, after the ballot, to lead the international peacekeeping force deployed when Indonesian-sponsored militia destroyed most of the territory's infrastructure.

Acting on sentiments that were noble to Australians, but virtually incomprehensible to Indonesians, Australia's role in East Timor seriously fractured relations with its most important neighbour.

The key task for both countries will be to rebuild the relationship but that will be more, not less, difficult as Indonesia becomes more democratic, and Indonesians more able to air sometimes intensely nationalistic views on their place in the world and their neighbours.

Another task for Australian policy will be to manage the relationship with East Timor as well as possible, especially, as The Australian's Peter Alford argued in these pages yesterday, to encourage a rapprochement with Indonesia. Membership of the Association of South-East Asian Nations would be an ideal form of security guarantee for East Timor, avoiding the need for the new nation to lean one way or another.

There were some broader trends at work in East Timor that will continue to be important factors in Australia's security equation.

They are the big changes in the political dynamic, aspects of the globalisation phenomenon – the diminishing importance of international boundaries and the growing influence of global forces on world politics and individual nations.

In Australia's region, these changes are manifested in what security analyst Paul Dibb has called the "arc of instability" to Australia's north and east. The list of potential conflicts is daunting: secessionist pressures in Aceh, Ambon and West Papua; civil strife in Papua New Guinea and Pacific island states including Fiji and Solomon Islands.

But these issues were not in the past and are not now the kinds of direct threats to Australian security that pose a fundamental danger to Australia.

They do, however, require subtle and constructive policies in the region.

The argument for intervention in the Pacific relies more on the benefits and influence achieved from being a good regional citizen: that Australia has a moral responsibility as the biggest power in the region to encourage and support democracy and economic development.

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