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Indonesia-Australia relations: A bright spot amid current tensions with neighbours

Updated On: Nov 06, 2007

Of late, Indonesian ties with its closest neighbours have been rather tense.

There have been the rows with Malaysia over the treatment of foreign workers and the ownership of the folk song –Rasa Sayang. The spate of incidents has caused anxiety to Indonesian students in Europewho have signed a joint statement urging for friendlier relations between the two countries. This statement will be sent to the Malaysian and Indonesian embassies in Europe. Moreover, a case over the alleged monopoly of Indonesia’s telecommunications industry by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings and two of its subsidiaries is pending judgment by the Indonesian anti-monopoly watchdog (KPPU).

However, there is one bright spark amid all the glum relations. Indonesia and its biggest neighbour, Australia, appear to be entering a more comfortable relationship in recent times. This is a considerable triumph for Indonesia as its relations with its neighbour down under have always been difficult, and sometimes fraught with acrimony. This was especially so over East Timor in the 1990s. Now, Australian concerns over Papua, anti-terrorism efforts and treatment of alleged drug carriers are the main points of recurring tensions.

However, all these are being set aside for the moment as both countries enjoy the current cordiality. After months of talks and a mock-exercise in June to finetune communication arrangements, Australia andIndonesia have undertaken groundbreaking cooperative efforts to curb illegal fishing. Last week, Australian Customs Vessel (ACV) Arnhem Bay and Indonesian Fisheries Department vessels Hiu Macan 003 and Hiu Macan 004 patrolled their respective side of the Australia-Indonesia maritime border from 29 October to 1 November. This was boosted by aerial surveillance from the Customs Coastwatch.

Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Bill Farmer lauded the efforts, saying that this was a “great leap forward” and would raise the capacity of both countries to combat illegal fishing and other transnational crimes. Commander of Australia`s Border Protection Command, Rear Admiral James Goldrick, also praised the patrol as “a concrete sign of greater cooperation between Australia and Indonesia and a more coordinated approach to reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region”. These efforts will secure both countries’ economic sources of livelihood from the sea.

In addition, Australia announced more good news for Indonesia last week. It has pledged A$30 (US$27.7) million to help Indonesia address its gas emission issue through the Kalimantan Forest and Climate Partnership program. Indonesian Forestry Center spokesman Achmad Fauzi told the press that Australia prioritized Indonesia’s position in its Global Initiative on Forest Climate (GIFC) fund because it possessed some of the world's largest forest areas and was located near Australia. As part of the follow-up, Ambassador Farmer has inked agreements with the Indonesian Forestry Ministry and National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) for a subsidiary arrangement for bilateral cooperation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with deforestation in Indonesia. This will reinforce Indonesian efforts in reducing emissions, capacity building, research and rehabilitation in handling forest and peat land fires. (5 November 2007)

Sources:

Malaysia to Continue Forging Stronger Ties with Indonesia (Bernama, 4 November 2007)

Australia pledges US$27.7 million to reduce gas emissions in Indonesia (Antara, 4 November 2007)

AustraliaIndonesia organizing joint fishery patrols (Antara, 3 November 2007)

An important relationship on the brink of maturity (The Australian, 31 October 2007)

Australian drug smugglers lose challenge to Indonesian death penalty (AFP, 31 October 2007)

Verdict on Temasek's anti-trust telecom case expected in fortnight (Channel News Asia, 3 November 2007)

RI, Australia to join forces to fight illegal fishing (Jakarta Post, 5 November 2007)