Indonesia’s nationalist rumblings and assertiveness in foreign affairs

Updated On: Jul 10, 2007

The Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) between Singapore and Indonesia continued to come under criticism. 

Muladi, governor of the National Resilience Institute (Lemhanas), has joined in the fray and call for Indonesia to revoke the DCA with Singapore if Singapore is reluctant to continue discussing and the two sides cannot agree on the implementing arrangements (IA).  However, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants DCA negotiations with Singapore continued. According to Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesia was determined to continue the negotiations with Singapore.

Jusuf Wanandi of Centre of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in his op-ed at Jakarta Post commented that unsettled relations between Indonesia and Singapore is caused by emotional and historical baggage, as well as differences in political systems and governance. Indonesians are jealous of Singapore’s wealth, which is believed by some Indonesians, in part made possible through illegal exploitation ofIndonesia’s riches. According to Jusuf, the difference of political systems and governance also play a big role in the jolty relations of the two nations. Indonesia is striving towards democracy which is at present messy and slow, while Singapore stresses good governance, but lesser liberties and freedoms.

In the end, Indonesians have to believe that Singapore has the best intentions for Indonesia, because it needs strong and peaceful relations with its neighbors to develop fully. In turn, Singapore needs to be patient and better understand the changes happening in Indonesia. So he concluded, more efforts on both sides are needed to overcome old and new frictions and misunderstanding, including over the extradition treaty and DCA and STT and Temasek investment in Indonesia. A lot of dialogue and cooperation among leaders in all walks of life are needed to overcome a lot of misunderstandings, prejudices and mistakes in the two countries’ relations.

The scrutiny that befell the DCA has now extended to the defence agreement between Indonesia and Australia.  Indonesian defense minister Juwono Sudarsono said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would soon formulate details of the defence cooperation, known as the Lombok Agreement signed in 2006.  Under the agreement, the two countries would cooperate in peacekeeping operations, disaster relief, counter-terrorism in the form of exchange of intelligence information and military humanitarian operations, regional maritime and aviation security. The two countries believe the cooperation will bring benefit to both sides through regular exchanges, dialogue and joint training, as it was proven in relief efforts for victims of 2004 tsunami in Aceh.

Having not been ratified by both parliaments, the Lombok agreement has been criticized by the Chairman of the Working Group on Timor Gap and Director of Care for West Timor Foundation, Ferdi Tanomi. He said, as quoted by Antara, the agreement might not benefit Indonesia if all bilateral agreements on Timor Sea have not been cancelled for renegotiation with Timor Leste.

Elsewhere, after the recent incident over the unfurling of RMS (Republic of South Maluku) separatist flag in a dance during President Susilo’s visit to Maluku, Muladi, governor of Lemhanas said Indonesiashould demand the US to deport Alex Manuputty, a leader of the outlawed RMS separatist movement. He said legal actions should be taken.

"Indonesia must pursue a foreign diplomacy which is firm, of high quality and aggressive, to deal with domestic separatist movements which often involve foreign parties,"Muladi was quoted as saying by Antara News Agency. He regretted that RMS elements were still active in the US, while in the Netherlands the movement had been effectively silenced through cultural approaches.

The assertiveness of Indonesia’s foreign affairs is also reflected in a recent statement by the Vice President Jusuf Kalla.  In response to the report by human rights group on continued human rights violation in Papua, he said that no country has the right to intervene in Indonesia’s internal affairs. The VP added that while countries like the US may share views with such groups about Indonesia, not all should be accepted because Indonesia is a sovereign country that deserves to be respected.

Meanwhile, Indonesia and Malaysia are now documenting the process of determining their land border from 1973 to 2000. The documentation is important for the two countries in the future. This can be used to prevent unwanted incidents such as what happened between Indonesia and Malaysia over their sea border, for example the case of Ambalat, which is still under dispute.

And in another reflection of increasing Indonesian sensitivities about their sovereignty and nationalist sentiments, Western Fleet Commander Rear Admiral Agus Suhartono warned recently that some islands in the province of Riau islands were prone to be the basis of foreign intelligence in Indonesian waters. According to him, there was no problem with foreigners wishing to develop and invest on the island for the sake of tourism or business. But alertness should be maintained in order to prevent manipulation for other proposes.With regard to its ties to Middle East countries, Kusnanto Anggoro of CSIS believes thatIndonesia is not yet necessary to open diplomatic relations with Israel, in consideration of the dynamics of a number of internal and external factors. However, Indonesia needs to continuously review its basic stance and policies. This statement is a response to suggestion by Effendi Choirie, a legislator from the National Awakening Party (PKB) that the Indonesian government should review its policy and establish diplomatic ties with Israel. However, other observer also believes that as a supporter of Palestine and from the standpoint of Indonesia’s own national interest, Indonesia’s relations with Israel should not go beyond what it is right now.  (9 July 2007)


`Lombok Agreement" seen as not beneficial to RI (Antara, 8 July 2007)

RI, Australia to formulate details of defence cooperation accord (Antara, 6 July 2007)

RI should demand Alex Manuputty`s deportation from US: Muladi (Antara, 5 July 2007)

Islands in "Kepri" prone to be basis of foreign intelligence (Antara, 7 July 2007)

No country can interfere in RI`s internal affairs, VP says (Antara, 7 July 2007)

No need to open diplomatic ties with Israel, says observer (Antara, 6 July 2007)

RI, M`sia to document process of determining land border (Antara, 5 July 2007)

President wants DCA negotiations with Singapore continued (Antara, 5 July 2007)

Muladi: RI should revoke defense cooperation with Singapore (Antara, 5 July 2007)

Australian Defence Minister visits Jakarta (Antara, 5 July 2007)

Indonesia-Singapore relations: Strained again? Opinion News by Jusuf Wanandi, (Jakarta Post, 9 July 2007)

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