Subject: AU: Australia-Indonesia: Neighbours, but never the best of friends

also: Aussie ambassador to Indonesia presents credentials

The Australian February 14, 2003

Neighbours, but never the best of friends

By Michael Sexton

THE Prime Minister's meeting this weekend with President Megawati Sukarnoputri comes in the wake of strong criticism by Indonesia's Vice-President and its Foreign Minister of Australian support for US action against Iraq.

Canberra's muted response to these attacks is a reminder of one of the great puzzles of Australian foreign policy in the postwar years. The pattern of this period has been a constant concern in Canberra about Indonesia and a series of -- largely unsuccessful -- attempts by all Australian governments over that time to placate the various regimes in Jakarta.

These attitudes were first apparent in the reaction of the Menzies government in the early 1960s to Indonesia's policy of "confrontation" with Malaysia. This policy was in many ways an attempt by the increasingly erratic president Sukarno to distract his people from difficult domestic problems. Although there was never any military follow-up to Sukarno's blustering tirades against the new neighbouring state, the Australians pressed the Americans -- unsuccessfully -- for a formal assurance that the ANZUS treaty would extend to any engagement between Australian and Indonesian forces, most particularly in Malaysia or Borneo.

The culmination of this concern was the almost desperate approach to the newly elected Johnson administration during the period November 1964-February 1965. Up to this time, the US had provided large-scale logistic support to the government of South Vietnam but had committed no combat troops. Canberra pressed the US to escalate the conflict by the introduction of ground troops and sought a US request for an Australian battalion.

Because our objective was to take out an insurance policy in Washington against Indonesian hostility, there was never any interest in Canberra in the fate of South Vietnam or its people. As it became obvious in the late '60s that the war was a failure, the Australians slipped quietly away, leaving the Americans to extricate themselves as best they could.

Shortly after the fall of Saigon in April 1975, the Indonesians decided to annex the former Portuguese colony of East Timor. In a piece of bizarre chronology, this exercise was approved by two otherwise disparate Australian administrations within a matter of weeks. Before November 11, 1975, the Whitlam government had indicated its acquiescence to the Indonesians (although not on the initiative of foreign minister Don Willesee, who was overshadowed by Whitlam and some members of the Department of Foreign Affairs). When the Fraser government came to power, it received the same advice from the department and adopted the same policy.

The killing of a number of Australian journalists by the Indonesian military in the course of its occupation of East Timor was a matter that no Australian government has ever wanted to seriously investigate. True, any investigation was unlikely to be productive unless undertaken very shortly after these events. But there could be no doubting the lack of enthusiasm in Canberra for an inquiry at any time.

DURING the next few years the Fraser government ignored the extermination of a significant proportion of the population of East Timor by the Indonesian forces. After this large-scale loss of life in the early years, Indonesian authorities in East Timor continued a regime of brutal repression over the next two decades. Foreign ministers from both parties tortured the English language in their efforts to explain why such conduct was condemned when it occurred anywhere else in the world, but not in East Timor.

The bombings in Bali underlined the futility of half a century of attempted appeasement by Canberra. Megawati made a perfunctory appearance at the scene but had no more to say on the subject -- except to complain about the investigation of a small number of Indonesian nationals in Australia. The Indonesian law enforcement authorities, after initially allowing the bomb site to be forensically contaminated, have made a series of wildly contradictory statements about the progress of the investigation. It is possible that all the bombers will be brought to justice but, on present indications, only by good luck rather than good management.

Meanwhile, Canberra has continued to publicly cultivate the regime in Jakarta. This attitude remains an article of faith in the Department of Foreign Affairs and also, to a large extent, in the Department of Defence. The contrast can be easily imagined if more than 100 Indonesian citizens had been murdered at a resort on the Gold Coast.

No one would sensibly suggest that Australia should go out of its way to have bad relations with any of its neighbours, including Indonesia. But if ever there was a case for a cool and correct approach to another nation, it is this one.

It could start at the Prime Minister's meeting with Megawati this weekend. There would be no significant economic consequences. History indicates that trade is not dependent on good political relations between countries. Nor are there any implications for national security. The Indonesian military will be fully occupied in preserving order in their own unstable environment. And there may even be a bonus in the form of an outbreak of national self-respect in Canberra.

Michael Sexton is author of War for the Asking: How Australia invited itself to Vietnam (New Holland, revised 2002).


The Jakarta Post February 14, 2003

Aussie ambassador presents credentials

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

On the eve of a visit by Australian Prime Minister John Howard to Indonesia, the country's new ambassador to Jakarta, David James Ritchie, finally got to present his credentials to President Megawati Soekarnoputri on Thursday after a three-month delay.

Ritchie now fills the vacant ambassadorial post in Jakarta left empty since October last year when then ambassador Richard W. Smith was appointed Australia's deputy secretary of defense.

Born in Papua New Guinea in 1953, Ritchie joined the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs in 1975. He has served in many African and Pacific countries, his last posting being that of deputy secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra.

Ritchie arrived in Jakarta last November, but his fate was put in the balance by the Indonesian House of Representatives, which has long been hostile to Australia.

Pending his approval by the House, the Australian government appointed him ad interim charge d'affairs here.

It was not only the Australian ambassadorial post here that was left vacant. Indonesia also deliberately left its ambassadorial post in Canberra empty for almost one year after Jakarta appointed then ambassador Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in May 2002.

These relatively long delays indicate that good relations between the two countries have still not been fully restored.

Bilateral relations have been on a roller-coaster over the past few years, especially after Australia helped East Timor break away from Indonesia in August 1999. Australia even led an international peacekeeping force in East Timor.

Ritchie came to Jakarta during a difficult time, especially after the Oct. 12 Bali bombings, which killed more than 190 people, many of them Australians.

Indonesia's prompt response to the bombings, with the arrests of key suspects coming within a relatively short space of time, helped improve relations somewhat.

Another setback emerged, however, after the Howard administration raided the homes of Indonesian citizens in the Australia as part of the effort to crush terrorism there.

Worse followed when Prime Minister John Howard said that Australia might conduct preemptive strikes against terrorist bases in foreign countries before the terrorists could stage attacks on Australia.

Megawati's acceptance of Australia's ambassador to Jakarta may indicate that bilateral relations are improving once again.

Not only that, the government has now submitted to the House its nominee for Indonesian ambassador to Australia -- Susanto Pudjomartono, the former chief editor of The Jakarta Post.

The House is expected to hold selection hearings later this month.

The improving relations should be further strengthened by Howard's planned visit to Jakarta on Friday, which coincides with Valentine's Day.

This will be his third visit to Indonesia since he was reelected prime minister last year.

Howard is expected to discuss the ongoing investigation into the Bali bombings as well as the Iraq issue with Megawati on Saturday.

The Iraq issue is a major point of disagreement between the two neighboring countries. Canberra fully supports Washington's war plans for Iraq, while Jakarta opposes them all the way.

Australian embassy press attache Kirk Cunningham said: "The prime minister will also hold several meetings with Indonesian Muslim leaders."


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