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External ties on the rise, internal troubles remain

Updated On: Mar 21, 2006

Of late, there have been many positive developments in Indonesia’s foreign relations.

The resumption of military ties between Indonesia and US after a 14-year hiatus is a good start. There is no question America has been generous towards Indonesia.  Ties with Australia are also on the mend. Indonesia has been out wooing friends, turning on the charm and playing constructive roles. It has just announced its plan to run for membership in the newly established UN Human Rights Council.

Indonesia is also working on China to maintain balance in its relationship. In fact, Indonesia is one of the first to react after Taiwan’s President Chen scrapped the Unification Council. " Indonesia's position on this issue is clear, and that is, we consistently support one China policy and the national reunification process of Chinawhich is conducted in a peaceful way. This position is consistent, even during the frozen period of diplomatic relations in the past" the Spokesman tells a regular press conference.

China is not the only power to have reach friendly ties with Indonesia. Indonesian and Indian navies will hold their seventh joint patrol later this month to anticipate various threats in the waters bordering the countries. "The one-week joint patrol will commence March 24 in the waters between Sabang Island and India's Nicobar Islands," Sabang Naval Base chief Col. Aswoto said. "The routine operation will be commanded from Port Blair in the Andaman Islands." Indonesia will send the KRI Sutan Taha corvette and a Nomad maritime patrol aircraft, said Aswoto.

While Indonesia is riding high on the foreign policy front, internal troubles remain with the Papua issue. Deadly protests in Papua in the past week underscore obstacles to peace in the eastern Indonesian province. Anti-Jakarta movements had been brewing in this region since the 1960s. Like East Timor’s natural gas reserves, Papua is rich in natural resources, including gold, but remains Indonesia's poorest province.  "It's sounding increasingly desperate over there,'' said Australian academic Damien Kingsbury, who advised Aceh rebels over their deal with the government. "You also have to take into account that the military is digging in its heels in Papua. After the end of the Aceh war, it's the site of its last fiefdom.'' 

Casualties have begun to heat up the atmosphere. Rock-throwing protesters demanding the closure of Freeport-McMoRan's huge Papua gold mine clashed with police Thursday in the provincial capital, Jayapura - three police and an air force officer were bludgeoned to death in the ensuing melee.

Besides this perennial problem, a recent poll conducted by the Indonesia Survey Institute found that Islamic conservatism on the rise.  40% of Indonesians support the replacement of state laws with syariah laws, and 10% consider suicide bombings justified in some circumstances.  How this would impact the domestic politics ofIndonesia which may in turn be reflected in its foreign relations is still unclear. But it certainly send a strong reminder that Indonesia is still very much a huge country in transition, and its developments in the years to come needs careful attention and support. 

Sources:

US wants this, Jakarta that (ST, March 18)

RI declines to join proliferation security initiative (Antara, March 17)

Indonesia Outlook 2006 - Economic (Jakarta Post March 13, 2006)

Indonesian, Indian navies to hold joint patrol (JP, March 19)

Indonesia Reaffirms Consistency on One China Policy (China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feb 24)

Papua killings underscore obstacles to peace in Indonesia region (The Star, 18 March 2006)

Islamic conservatism on the rise in Indonesia: Poll (Straits Times, 18 March 2006)

US wants this, Jakarta that (ST, March 18)

RI declines to join proliferation security initiative (Antara, March 17)

Indonesia Outlook 2006 - Economic (Jakarta Post March 13, 2006)

Indonesian, Indian navies to hold joint patrol (JP, March 19)

Indonesia Reaffirms Consistency on One China Policy (China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feb 24)