Subject: JamesDunn: Our Indonesian Relationship

<>Our Indonesian Relationship

The Indonesian Relationship: A Good Start?

Mr. Rudd's recent Jakarta visit was obviously a success, paving the way for a more informal and creative relationship between Canberra and Jakarta. However, this successful encounter should be seen as a basis for a more positive and creative relationship, not as an end in itself. There is nothing unusual about close and easy relations between the Australian and Indonesian leaders. Remember Gough Whitlam's so-called batik shirt diplomacy? He impressed Suharto with his determination to bring Australians to Asia. And what could be closer that the relationship between Paul Keating and the Indonesian dictator? In the end this leadership intimacy led the Australian governments concerned into a shameful policy of pandering to a dictator, now discredited by his own people as ruthless and corrupt, whose family's voracious appetite for wealth stripped the Indonesian state of a huge fortune. Even worse, in the case of East Timor we then gave strong diplomatic support to Jakarta, helping shield it from allegations of gross crimes against humanity, including against its own people.

In many ways the situation is now changed. The dictatorship is history and Indonesia is on the way to becoming a democracy. At least that is the case under SBY's leadership, but he just might not make next election, and that could changes. Hower, Kevin Rudd make good use of the June meeting. The leaders discussed a wide range of issues - security and defence cooperation, environmental issues such as carbon trading and climate change, the status of our large aid program for Aceh, free trade and Rudd's proposal for an Asian Pacific union. These were relatively easy matters, with the possible exception of the Asia-Pacific union. Indonesia has a strong commitment not only to ASEAN, but also to its offshoot, the Asian Regional Forum, which embraces the wider region outside Southeast Asia.

The problem is that these forums simply do not go far enough, in relation to key issues like trade, security and the increasingly important subject of human rights, the implementation of which is today seen as the real test of a functioning democratic system. Just what SBY thought of the proposal is hard to judge: he is polite listener. Mr. Rudd apparently reiterated our support for Indonesia's transition to a democracy. In its wider context the latter issue is a sensitive matter, and clearly here our prime minister does need to tread carefully, always bearing in mind that Indonesia's road to nationhood has been infinitely more difficult than the Australian experience. It is one thing to enjoy an easy and warm relationship with Indonesia's political leaders and its spirited media, that part of the establishment that has really been freed up. It is another to deal with the not yet reformed military and the undemocratic, expanding and increasingly assertive Islamic fundamentalists whose leaders are bent on weakening the secular nature of the Indonesian state. In relation to the TNI we should move very cautiously, avoiding past practices where, on occasion, senior Australian military officers echoed TNI claims that the human rights situation in East Timor was in good shape.

There are no doubt a number of serious issues that were not addressed during the Rudd visit. One of these should arise quite soon, and it could offer a challenge to our prime minister, of the kind that his predecessors declined to take up. An issue that may soon challenge the Government's stand on humanitarian issues will surface, with the release of the Indonesia-Timor Truth and Justice Commission report on crimes against humanity in East Timor in 1999 and earlier. The Commission's report will probably disappoint those of us who would like to see an exposure of, and some action against, those military commanders responsible for nasty war crimes that are now well documented. Already there are renewed international calls for a tribunal that might offer a measure of justice, and closure, to the Timorese who felt the cruel weight of the TNI's brutal culture. Interestingly today they are likely to be supported by those Indonesians pressing for comprehensive democratic reform, especially of military organizations like Kopassus which still retain a shadowy, intimidating presence.

What is at stake is justice for a catastrophic level of killing, torture and suffering that has inflicted on the Timorese a kind of trauma. Some leaders, like Xanana Gusmao, are unwisely prepared to forego justice for the sake of good relations with Jakarta. Such a course, however, risks being counter-productive from a security point of view, so we, too, should be pressing for the kind of justice that we have joined with the international community in demanding for Bosnians, Kosovars, Rwandans and Cambodians. But it is not just about the rights of the East Timorese; it is also about clearing the way for the fulfillment of Indonesia's democratic transformation. As for Australia, from the point of view of our human rights commitment, it is about behaving responsibly rather than pragmatically .

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