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Indonesian assertiveness at work

Updated On: Mar 24, 2007

Indonesia, through its ambassador to US, is making conscious efforts to get closer to the US.

During the past few months, the RI envoy has visited a number of US states such as California, Georgia, Utah, New York and Texas. The mission is to seek inputs to improve education, political stability and human rights issue in the country and in the Southeast Asian region. At the same time, Indonesia's president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) met his US counterpart George W. Bush to talk about UN Security Council effort on Iran's nuclear program and about future positive cooperation following the G-33 trade ministers meeting in Jakarta.

In the context of Asia, Indonesia is facing challenges in the rising rivalry between China and Japan. Japan just signed security pact with Australia, the first one other than the US. The implications of the security pact will certainly consolidate the close strategic alignment between Japan, Australia and the US, marking the emergence of strategic alliance between East Asian democracies led by the US.

Indonesia is looking for a suitable place in this changing strategic environment. It is not comfortable with communist China nor with the US-led “alliances”. The natural choice for Indonesia is to continue its bebas-aktif (independent and active) foreign policy.

How to put this in operation is another question. Japan remains Indonesia's important economic partner, on the other hand, the growing China will likely to be Indonesia's future strategic partner. ASEAN's stance in this matter is also divided. The key challenge for Indonesia now, together with ASEAN, is how to encourage both Japan and China to avoid an unnecessary strategic rivalry in the region. That would require convincing both major powers of the merits of greater efforts at institution-building and community-building in East Asia.

Indonesia's assertiveness in international diplomacy, however, is not reflected as positively in its relations with its neighbors, especially Singapore and Malaysia.  Its bilateral ties with Singapore are full of hassles, ranging from the recent sand ban leading to granite export restriction, to the negotiation of extradition and defense treaties. There is still a high tension over borders dispute with Malaysia. However the heads of the two countries agreed to resolve the matter through negotiation. Another tricky issue to be resolved is the ASEAN haze agreement. Indonesia is believed to be the main source of annual forest and land fires resulting in choking haze in Indonesia and its neighbors, notably Singapore, Malaysia and also Brunei. The bill to ratify the treaty is currently being debated in the parliament and ratification is opposed by the major factions in Parliament as well as a group of environmentalists. The opponents to the agreement argued that the accord is disadvantageous to Indonesia since it only talks about haze, disregard other  important environmental issues such as pollution at Malacca Strait, illegal dumping of hazardous waste at Indonesian territory by several neighboring countries, illegal sand mining, illegal logging and poaching. The agreement, however, is supported by conservation groups as it would have a positive impact on animal conservation by reducing forest fires and threats to animal habitats.  And conservation group supported all efforts aimed at conserving animals and land.

Sources:

ASEAN accord on haze disadvantegeous to Indonesia, Antara, March 20, 2007

RI envoy making "road-show" across US, Antara, March 19, 2007

US, Indonesian leaders discuss Iran, Antara, March 20, 2007

Government to arrest sand exporter to Singapore, Antara, March 19, 2007

Indonesia to send trade mission to Mauritania, Antara, March 19, 2007

RI faces challenges in China, Japan relations, op-ed, JP, March 20, 2007