Indonesia Relations

Guest Post: Mk50 of Brisbane – Indonesian relations


From the excellent Catallaxy Files:

I have been following the Australian left’s Narrative on the effect ’stopping the boats’ has on Australian-Indonesian relations. That ABC/Fairfax Narrative is that:

  • The government is conducting megaphone diplomacy and the Indonesians despise this.
  • ‘Abbott’ has ruined relations with Indonesia, does not understand them, and is a bull in the regional china shop for all those reasons summarised at Catallaxy by the shorthand ‘Abbottabbotabbott666’ (essentially the left considers him a savage compared to their own doyens of competent rectitude Brown, Milne, Rudd and Gillard).
  • The boats cannot be stopped due to push factors and efforts to do so will lead to adverse relations with Indonesia.

The left’s conceptions about Indonesia are based on the innate belief that they are inferior in all respects to themselves and include the remarkable assumptions that:

  • Indonesia is a new nation.
  • Indonesians are all alike.
  • Indonesians think the same as left-wing Australians, only not as well.
  • Indonesians need and should respond to the guidance of the Australian left, who know what is good for them.

These patronising views are observable in the biased, near hysterical reporting of the ABC and Fairfax as the government quickly stopped the ‘unstoppable’ illegal immigrant trade, now 5 weeks without a boat.

The reality about Indonesia is deeper than the left can understand. Indonesia is the Javanese Empire (go ask a Moluccan’s opinion); an ancient and sophisticated social agglomeration with a history of civilisations dating back to ancient Dvipantara (200BC) and Kutai in the bronze and iron ages. ‘Indonesian’ eyes have been locked on the arc from the north to the west for two thousand years, as that is where the security threats and trade benefits come from – they well remember the Mongol invasion of Java in 1292. A brief word on the Indonesian military – it is not a western military but an Imperial one: its major role is to keep Indonesia together and that is what the ‘dwifungsi’ concept is about. So their Navy is a maritime constabulary force and secondarily aimed at conventional warfare. Their amphibious ships spend most of their time on ‘Surya Bhaskara Jaya’ (SBJ) sociocivic tasking to bring the benefits of Imperial rule to the outlands. The left’s patronising view of Indonesia is a caricature, and we know from their actions that Jakarta regarded the Rudd/Gillard governments as incompetent loudmouthed boors. Meanwhile, Abbott, then in opposition, was maintaining quiet low level contacts and ensuring that his policy framework was understood in Jakarta. This was understood and appreciated – it’s how they do business themselves – a public announcement is one already negotiated and agreed to in Javanese society and politics, where surprises and confrontation are actively avoided and differences settled privately.

Enter the left. The Indonesian and Australian government responses to their Narrative are not public but have to be assessed from the outcomes they generate.

This provides our first point of assessment: there is a lot of communication out of the public eye. That is a little antithetical to Australians, but it is how Indonesia does diplomacy and it is how Howard worked so well with them after East Timor. Abbott and Yudhoyono have continued this through the usual intermediaries, hence the quiet Indonesian acceptance of Australian boat return policy. The quid pro quo was that these returns not be trumpeted. Why? Well, as Mick from Gold Coast noted, there’s an election on:

It has ever been thus – the elections there are in April and July and, for Indonesia, that is the only game in town (and there is no way they will leave themselves exposed to incursion by the Abu Sayaf and other Islamist extremists from the north).

This minor irritation to the south east has offered outgoing President Yudhoyono a useful distraction to counter corruption claims against his party by other contenders as the general election campaign approaches.

We can now see a second point of assessment: both governments have considered the Narrative, noted its predictability and have turned it to advantage while publicly appearing not to do so. For example Indonesia is announcing ship and MPA deployments in response to minor breaches of Indonesian territorial waters – odd how they would never have known of these if Australia had not told them, and now Canberra has what it wants. The quid pro quo is also obvious. Partai Demokrat, GOLKAR, PKS, PAN, PPP and PKB coalition partner officials are cheerfully beating the ‘vote for us because we stand up to foreigners’ drum secure in the knowledge that Canberra will not say a word about it. And both benefit from the free publicity flowing from the Narrative. Reports of Indonesian warships going to the area, hysteria about turnbacks, the baseless ABC allegations of beatings and burnings all act to deter new customers for the transnational criminal gangs running the people smuggling trade. Both countries benefit from this.

What the left will refuse to understand is that their predictability makes them perfect for co-option, and so they and their Narrative have been co-opted by political operators vastly more worldly and sophisticated than they. As the left just knows itself to be morally and intellectually superior to both governments, they are unable to acknowledge this or to change their MO. Their worldview does not permit them to realise they are being played like a violin. This will not change.


Catallaxy has, almost beyond doubt, the most vibrant and well-educated community of regulars in the Australian blogosphere. It has blind spots – perception of Indonesia being one.