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Indonesia bilateral ties with partners and neighbours – being wooed by some and working hard on some

Updated On: Feb 16, 2007

Indonesia is in the mood to strengthen its bilateral relations with US and Japan, rekindle talks with Myanmar while straightening out facts over the sand ban that is believed to be related to extradition treaty with Singapore.

On last Tuesday, U.S. Joint Military Chief of Staff Gen Peter Pace met with President Yudhoyono and other Indonesian defense and military leaders to seek ways on how to improve bilateral military ties as well as discussing international issues. The meeting marked a reconciliation of defense ties between the two countries. TheU.S. imposed arms restrictions and cut military aid to Indonesia after human rights abuses in Timor Leste in 1992. Although the restrictions have been waived in 2005, Indonesia has been diversifying its military sources to RussiaChina and some EU countries.

Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono said the United States has an important role in maintaining the stability of maritime security at the Asia-Pacific region. "It is natural that the U.S. should help maintain the maritime security at the Asia-Pacific region without necessarily causing its military might to be present there but by giving its facility and infrastructure assistance," Juwono said.

On another occasion, Pace expressed his contentment over the relationship that existed between Indonesia and the US. Pace supported the leadership role Indonesiaplays in the region. He praised Indonesia as a natural leader because Indonesia is a large and prosperous country with a 220 million plus population. This comment reinforced the previous remark by the Bush administration that sees Indonesia as a strategic partner and an important democratic, Muslim country that proves Islam and democracy are compatible.

Other issues that were discussed included participation in peacekeeping operations, and measures to safeguard the Malacca Strait.

Japan was another country to offer increased cooperation with Indonesia to maintain security in the Malacca Strait. "Cooperation between the two countries` defense forces in the Malacca Strait is very important as security in the area also affects national, regional and international security," Indonesian Defense Forces` (TNI) Commander Marshal Djoko Suyanto said after meeting with visiting Japanese Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Eiji Yoshikawa at the TNI Headquarters.Admiral Yoshikawa meanwhile said "bilateral cooperation between the two countries` defense forces, especially the navies, is very important in view of Indonesia`s strategic position and because Indonesia has several straits for international passage."

A meeting that was supposed to take place last year between Indonesia and Myanmar finally went ahead.  Officials of Indonesian and Myanmar’s foreign ministries met in Jakarta from Wednesday to Thursday (14-15 Feb) to discuss efforts to improve cooperation in sectors including economy, trade, investment, energy, education, agriculture, forestry, transportation, defense and security.  The officials also discussed about the latest progress of the democratization process in the country, but not much was revealed to the press on this.

On another bilateral front, while economic relations seemed to be on track with further discussions on the joint development of Batam, Bintan and Karimun,Indonesia and Singapore have yet to work out the extradition and defense treaties after disagreement over certain points.  An Indonesian officer told the media that the reason behind the sand ban is not merely severe environmental damage or the threat to its territory, but discussions over an extradition treaty that Singapore is still not ready to sign.

The signing of a long-awaited extradition treaty with Singapore is being delayed by arguments over whether it can be signed at the same time as a defense treaty.Indonesia wanted the agreements signed separately, while Singapore said one could not be concluded without the other. While the extradition negotiations have made much progress, with the recent conclusion of a list of crimes that fall under its power that include corruption and other graft cases, the more recent defense negotiations still face several stumbling blocks.

Defense Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Edy Butar Butar said four problems were still present after the end of the seventh round of negotiations in December last year. The first point, he said, was the Singaporean claim that it had a traditional training area in the Natuna Islands while the second was Singapore's insistence that other countries were free to join its military training inside Indonesia's territory. "The third is our objection to Singaporean underwater training or the use of our water for its submarine training. If they want to conduct military training then it should be on or above our waters. The fourth is Singapore's demand that it should be given up to 25 years (for the agreement) while we want to renew the agreement every five years," he told the Jakarta Post.

The date and location of the eighth round of negotiations would be decided by Singapore. Meanwhile, an expert in international law at the University of Indonesia, Hikmahanto Juwana, urged Indonesia and Singapore to learn from Thailand, where prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra fell from power because of domestic impatience over sensitive national issues.  (15 February 2007)

Sources:

RI says U.S. has important role in Asia Pacific security (Antara, 13 February 2007)

U.S. regards RI natural regional leader, friend (Jakarta Post, 14 February 2007)

RI, U.S. to pursue closer defense ties (Jakarta Post, 14 February 2007)

RI, Myanmar governments to meet in Jakarta on Wednesday  (Jakarta Post, 13 February 2007)

Indonesian, Myanmarese joint commission meet in Jakarta (Jakarta Post, 14 February 2007)

RI, Japan agree to increase cooperation in maintaining Malacca Strait security (Antara, 13 February 2007)

RI dismisses criticism of sand export ban  (Jakarta Post, 13 February 2007)

Indonesia insists it has good reasons to ban sand exports (The Strait Times, 14 February 2007)

IndonesiaSingaporedisagree over extradition, defense treaties (Jakarta Post, 12 February 2007