INDONESIA: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Yudhoyono's new deal for Australia
, November 6, 2004
The newly-installed President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has foreshadowed a new relationship with Australia, which will have long-term benefits for both countries.
The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, is conscious of the need to build close relationships with Indonesia under its new President, after being marginalised by former President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
Unlike Megawati, the new President has close personal ties with Australia. He is a former army general, and in that capacity, had worked with senior Australian defence personnel; studied in the US; and was Minister for Security in Megawati's Cabinet until resigning early this year to contest the Presidency against her.
As Minister for Security, he co-operated closely with Australian Federal Police and defence officials following the Bali bombing in 2002. Australian officials assisted Indonesian police in the vigorous hunt for the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorists behind the killing of over 200 people two years ago.Hunt for JI
Up to that point, many Indonesian leaders, including Megawati, had refused to admit that JI was operating from Indonesia.
The hunt for JI operatives has led to several successful prosecutions, and the arrest of the JI spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir.
Co-operation against JI was enhanced following the car-bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta last September, which resulted in the deaths of about 10 people.
John Howard responded promptly to an open invitation to Asian leaders to attend President Yudhoyono's inauguration, and was the first foreign leader to greet the new Indonesian President after his inauguration. Mr Howard was one of five Asia-Pacific leaders to attend the inauguration.
There are a number of important issues on the agendas of both countries which can be addressed through closer ties.
Australia wants to see a new security pact to replace that signed by former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, and President Suharto of Indonesia in 1995.
The latter was suspended when Australia participated in the UN force which restored order in East Timor in 1999, after the Timorese voted for independence.
That treaty committed the countries to ministerial consultations about security, increasing cooperation and consultations in the event of a threat to either country or to the region. Some commentators expressed the view that it was directed against possible threats from China, although that was not made explicit.
Additionally, the Australian Government wants to work with Indonesia to address issues such as the sea border between the two countries, people-smuggling, poaching, and other security issues.
Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, flagged the possibility of a new security treaty with Indonesia, but there are real difficulties with this.
Indonesia wants closer economic ties with Australia; but also wants Australia to sign the ASEAN Treaty on "amity and co-operation", which vetoes military intervention in the affairs of member countries.
This would head off the possibility of unilateral Australian military intervention against terrorists, as foreshadowed by Australia's Prime Minister during the recent election campaign, or intervention in issues such as West Papua and Aceh, which Indonesia clearly regards as its internal affairs.
Indonesia is also committed to building its position as a modern democratic state, with the largest Muslim population in the world. It would be looking to take a higher profile in Asia, and would wish to take a position on the UN Security Council.
In May 2003, John Howard proposed to the UN that the UN Security Council be revamped to include a permanent seat for Indonesia.
He proposed that the Security Council become a three-tiered body, replacing the existing two-tiered system, which has five permanent members and 10 two-year rotational seats.
He suggested that Indonesia, Japan, India, Germany and Brazil would form the second tier with permanent seats but no rights of veto, unlike the existing permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. The final five places making up the third tier would continue to be elected on rotation every year or two.
Mr Howard's proposal did not attract much interest at the time, but is certain to be revived, following the election of President Yudhoyono.
Both UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and US President George Bush have called for reform of the structure of the UN, following the deadlock over Iraq.
If Australia is able to improve relations with Indonesia and other South East Asian nations, and Mr Howard builds a partnership with the new Indonesian President, it will undoubtedly open other doors to political and security co-operation.