Indonesia series post #6: Australia-Indonesia Relations by the Numbers

Inspired by Cogitasia’s regular blog feature ‘By the Numbers: the data driving Asia’, as the final post in this week’s Indonesia series, I’ve put together a snapshot of developments in Australia-Indonesia relations using figures from this week’s Annual Leaders’ Meeting.


The number of refurbished C-130H aircraft granted to Indonesia by the Australian Government for boosting its humanitarian operational capability. Indonesia will be responsible for future maintenance costs of these aircraft. According to President Yudhoyono, “This is half-grant, half-purchase.”

$578.4 million

The amount pledged by Australia to assist poverty reduction in Indonesia in 2012-13. Funding will support Indonesia’s development priorities in areas such as education, infrastructure and social protection.


The number of visas that will be available annually (increased from 100) to Indonesians to work and holiday in Australia. Only a small proportion of Indonesians will be able afford the pricey trip downunder but it gets the ball rolling in helping to build people to people links.

2 and 1

The number of new bilateral and trilateral initiatives announced. Charles Darwin University and Nusa Cendana University in Kupang will forge new ties as the Australia-Indonesia schools partnership program (BRIDGE) is expanded this year.  A bilateral table-top exercise between the ADF and TNI—Exercise Garuda Kookaburra—and a new trilateral exercise between the US, Australia and Indonesia (and possibly Chinese observers) will take place in the Northern Territory in 2013.


The number of translators ABC News 24 had on hand to translate the President’s State Dinner address in Darwin delivered in Indonesian. Thankfully, this was corrected the next day during Prime Minister Gillard and President Yudhoyono’s joint press conference.

Indonesia series posts I, II, III, IV and V.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #3: special forces and foreign policy (part II)

In yesterday’s post (part I), I touched on how the goals of drawing closer to Indonesia and developing counter terrorism capabilities were met by encouraging joint exercises between SASR and Kopassus, starting in 2003. In this post, I explore the trickle down effects this relationship has had on Asian Pacific partners, their respective foreign policies, and regional security.

First, SASR’s long-standing and robust engagement with Kopassus has provided a testbed for US engagement with the unit. The US has been able to observe Australia’s handling of challenges such navigating sensitivities over human rights records. For instance, in 2003 Kopassus’ commander was denied entry into Australia for a meeting on joint exercises as he was at that time still on trial for suspected human rights abuses. In retaliation, the commander in question Major General Sriyanto cancelled the visit. But times have changed. Continue reading

Indonesia series post #2: Insight into Indonesia’s President SBY

Unfortunately, the Indonesian President’s speech at the State Dinner in his honour last night was cut short as the ABC News 24 lacked Indonesian translators. In absence of that speech, here are some recent yet important speeches that provide some insight into his sentiments about Australia and about Indonesia’s place in the Asian Century.

Speech delivered to the Australian Parliament, Canberra, 10 March 2010, available here.

  • Shorter SBY: Australia and Indonesia have a strong relationship as friends, neighbours and strategic partners. Both countries should work together as equal stakeholders in a common future, overcome stereotypes and tap into potential of the relationship.
  • Memorable moments: SBY paying respects to Australians who died during humanitarian operations in Indonesia, praising early Australian support for Indonesian independence, and using the words “fair dinkum”.

Keynote Address to IISS Asia Security Summit, Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, 1 June 2012, available here.

  • Shorter SBY: Asia Pacific requires more durable security architecture achieved by “dynamic regionalism” and a sense of Asian Pacific community. Middle and small states should work to ensure relations between major powers are stable and peaceful.
  • Indonesia’s increased defence spending to be used for increasing capacity to protect borders, to counter transnational threats, to increase its contribution to peace-keeping operations worldwide, to be better prepared for military operations other than war, and to conduct special operations.
  • Memorable moments: SBY using the words “win-win strategic culture”, citing the successful rescue of Indonesian hostages from Somali pirates by the navy and special forces, and being super optimistic.

Speech ‘The Development of Asia-Pacific Geopolitics in the 21st Century and the Effect on Indonesia’ to TNI and POLRI Officer Candidate School, Bandung, 29 June 2012, excerpts here and here (in Indonesian):

  • Shorter SBY: Strong and sustainable peace in the region is achievable. Transparency in increasing military capability and confidence building measures are essential in preventing mistrust between states. Indonesia will continue to build comprehensive partnerships and conduct constructive diplomacy in the region.
  • Memorable moments: SBY losing his cool and berating students in the front row for falling asleep.

Overall, these speeches represent a determination on behalf of SBY to engage with the region and really promote Indonesia’s burgeoning presence in regional and international terms.

Indonesia series post #1: SASR, Kopassus and foreign policy (part I)


In today’s Canberra Times, Athol Yates highlights the foreign policy use of the ADF. He states:

Employing the military internationally for both hard (military) and soft (non-military) power purposes has become an effective sign of the government’s international relations intent. For example, having the Air Force’s C-17 with its distinctive Australian livery arrive in Japan following last year’s tsunami visibly signals Australia’s solidarity with the country far more than providing funds to country-independent organisations such as the Red Cross or funds such as the Pacific Disaster Appeal.

Another example is the relationship between the SASR and Indonesia’s special forces unit Kopassus as an important part of Australia-Indonesia relations and an extension of Australia’s regional foreign policy goals.

The relationship has been an important component of rebuilding Australia-Indonesia military ties after they were cut in 1999 in response to allegations of human rights abuses by TNI in East Timor. The reinstatement of SASR-Kopassus ties in 2003 simultaneously addressed a need to further develop a counter terrorism capability as well as repair the defence relationship.

The units now conduct a number of training exercises, sharing skills and cooperation in areas such as counter terrorism and jungle warfare. The relationship has also extended into other capability areas with a number of Kopassus members undertaking Defence-sponsored English language study from May to June this year, supervised by SASR personnel.

Part II: More on special forces units and foreign policy

Image taken by Corporal Ricky Fuller, courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia week on Security Scholar

Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono is visiting Australia from today and so I’ll be writing short posts on Indonesia this week and, where possible, live tweeting some of the events broadcast on TV.

Accompanied by a delegation of ministers, SBY will meet with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin for the second annual Indonesia-Australia Leaders’ Meeting. Hopefully, it will also be an opportunity to discuss the upcoming Defence White Paper in 2013.

The full text of the Joint Communiqué from the inaugural meeting in Bali can be found here. In terms of defence and security, this passage is of note:

Our cooperation on traditional and non-traditional security issues has never been stronger, underpinned by the Lombok Treaty and its Plan of Action. We reaffirmed our commitments under the Treaty, including to one another’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Australia was pleased to announce it would provide support to a new Indonesian Armed Forces Peacekeeping centre.

Reinforcing our comprehensive security cooperation, both leaders directed senior officials of both countries under the Security Cooperation Consultation Group to review existing cooperation, and to coordinate and set priorities under the Plan of Action of the Lombok Treaty.  Both leaders also further encouraged the finalisation of the Defense Arrangement as a basis for an enhanced defense cooperation between the two countries.

In light of discussion on Australia-Indonesia defence cooperation, encouraged in particular by Prof Hugh White, this seems an appropriate departure point at the political level for deepening ties. More on Lombok later this week.

Indonesia: great power on our doorstep?

Two nights ago at the ANU, Professor Hugh White delivered a solid speech that lucidly and methodically explained why we, Australia, should be considering Indonesia with more care.

Projected to be the world’s fourth largest economy in a matter of decades and increasing in clout as a regional power, if not great power, Indonesia will be a force to reckon with, according to White. As such, many Australians will be forced to overturn their assumptions about Indonesia as a poor and weak country. White implored the audience to consider ways of redefining the bilateral relationship with Indonesia beyond third order issues like drug smuggling, people trafficking, border protection, and counter terrorism. Pointing to further evidence that the relationship was not as robust as Government would have us believe, White pointed to “fault lines” in the relationship caused by Australia’s involvement in East Timor’s independence which, for some time, severed diplomatic relations completely.

Against the backdrop of a shift in the strategic balance in Asia, and as Australia aligns itself towards the so-called “Asian Century”, White invited us to consider whether Indonesia would be an asset or an ally. In his view, Indonesia holds great potential to shield Australia from the threat of major powers in the region, if we get our bilateral relationship right. If we do, then we may start to think about the kinds of Defence capability that would complement the armed forces of Indonesia so that both countries could work towards a kind of “forward defence”.  White wrapped up his speech with five points to improve the relationship: 1) improve DFAT political reporting, 2) focus less on third order issues and more on China, 3) de-emphasise the role of aid in relating to Indonesia, 4) abolish travel advisories (as negative ones have tended to upset Indonesia), and 5) increase the importance of the bilateral relationship in Australian politics.

There are, however, a few extra elements in relation to Australia-Indonesia ties White might have explored in his speech (and I’m sure he would have, given more time), and I would like to take up three of his points to develop these further.

Continue reading

US drones and Indonesia-Australia relations


Indonesia has signalled its discontent with recent speculation in the Washington Post about American reconnaissance aircraft including Global Hawk drones flying from the Cocos Islands (a Australian territory located close to the Indonesian archipelago). Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto announced Indonesia had issued a protest note to the US and Australia. The move came after a day of restrained statements that only affirmed good relations with both partners and the benefit of US regional presence for regional disaster relief operations.

At first, it was unclear why Indonesia was so reserved. There was no substantial comment in major English and Indonesian language media in the days after. The Washington Post article provided only speculation about drones from the Cocos Islands rather than a concrete announcement. The protest note could be seen as commensurate with the significance Indonesia thinks it deserves. On the Australian side, Defence Minister Stephen Smith has played down the potential of such plans.

Yet in November 2011, the announcement of plans to base US Marines in Darwin was quickly met with strongly worded caution about containment of China from Indonesian military (TNI) chief, Admiral Agus Suhartono, and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. These statements seem in keeping with Indonesia’s “dynamic equilibrium” approach. In this approach, regional institutions are strengthened and no single power dominates. A statement by Indonesia reflecting this approach and balancing the interests of the US and China in the Asia Pacific would have been expected.

Another explanation is that Indonesia was waiting to produce a consolidated message. After Suhartono’s and Natalegawa’s comments, the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono softened his country’s stance in declaring the stationing plans as non-threatening, pointing to normative constraints that would prevent the use of force in the region.

Since then, a central theme in Indonesia’s reaction to US troops in Darwin has emerged: no problem. This stance was echoed by Natalegawa’s recent statements during the so-called “2+2 talks” in Australia this month and a Defence spokesperson’s comments two days ago.

This morning, international security expert, Professor Alan Dupont, had this to say:

I am 90 per cent sure the Indonesian government was blindsided on this and they are still not fully in the picture … They will look at Cocos Island, which is closer to Indonesia than Australia, and will think, good god. In Jakarta there is a well-disposed government but they will be scratching their heads and wondering where the Australians are going on this.

This view was supported by an Indonesian researcher who suggested that the TNI leadership was totally unprepared for the announcement.

Dupont goes on to argue that Australia again could be perceived as the ‘Deputy Sheriff’ of the US, a characterisation that was often used by regional leaders like Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, to discredit Australia’s Southeast Asian credentials. It is in Australia’s best interests to resist this characterisation. While we continue to deepen our military ties with the US, our engagement with the region should not be seen as an extension of US policy.

If Dupont is right, Australia is out of step with its most important regional defence partner. As Indonesian reactions to both US Marines in Darwin and drone launches from the Cocos Islands attest, Australia could do more to sell closer US-Australia ties as non-provocative. As recent public debate and statements from Australia’s political leadership suggest, we wish to draw closer to Indonesia, not further away.

The situation remains ambiguous on both sides. Yet, Smith, in playing down the Cocos Islands plan could have done more to reassure Indonesia that regional partners would be consulted in due course. While the future of drones from the Cocos Islands plan is yet to unfold, it is clear Indonesia is not happy.

Image courtesy of Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, Canberra.

Small steps for Australia-Indonesia relations

Security was tight. With the dozens of beret-clad and armed POLRI, squads of the special reaction unit (Gegana) dressed in black, military police, army, and rooftop snipers, journalists and onlookers were more concerned about getting on their wrong side that morning than of any terrorist attack.

However, once the Australian Prime Minister arrived to pay her respects to the victims of the 2002 Bali Bombing, all eyes were on her. In Bali for the ASEAN and related summits, the PM’s visit to Ground Zero was a small yet symbolically important part of her tightly-packed schedule.

Australia-Indonesia diplomatic relations have had a number troughs over the past twelve months. A few days ago, Indonesia’s foreign minister and military chief voiced their respective concerns about the newly-announced initiative to place US Marines in Darwin from 2012 (with the FM noting he’d only been told informally a few days prior to the announcement). Add to that a Prime Minister who has publicly stated that foreign affairs is not her forte, failed to coordinate with her Foreign Minister on policy changes, and announced asylum seeker initiatives without alerting the countries in question.

Continue reading