Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono address to the Australian parliament yesterday marked a very real change in Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations. Much of the history of that relationship has been characterised by either problems or diplomatic distance, which President Yudhoyono frankly acknowledged. But his speech to the parliament illustrated how close the two countries have now become.
The main change in the relationship has been as a result of Indonesia’s increasingly deep democratisation. No matter how close Australian political leaders might have wanted to be in the past, the fundamental contradictions between Indonesia’s then closed political system and Australia’s more open system meant that underlying problems would always surface.
The visit to Australia by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono marks an important step in the maturing of Australia-Indonesia bilateral relations. Not since the ebullient Aburrahman Wahid have we had an Indonesian president visit twice (SBY was here in 2005) but, more importantly, Yudhoyono is the most substantial political leader Indonesia has had since the departure of the authoritarian President Suharto.
That Yudhoyono has been invited to address the Australian parliament – and has accepted - is a further clear sign of the strength of the bilateral relationship. As a marker of Australia’s international diplomacy, the relationship with Indonesia has always been the biggest and most difficult test. As Indonesia democratises, both countries seem to be getting it right.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd’s, confirmation that the Federal Government blocked three shipments of cargo to Iran has raised questions about what the ships contained. So far, Mr Rudd has refused to comment on the details of the intervention.
Defence Minister John Faulkner stopped the shipments under the Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, prompting speculation that the contents could be used in Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran has been accused by western countries of developing or wanting to develop nuclear weapons. However, Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. The problem is, even if Iran’s claim is true, a nuclear energy based on high grade uranium can be easily converted into a weapons-grade uranium and hence a nuclear weapons program.
Speaking to the National Press Club on Tuesday, Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce’s comments on Australia’s international aid program are startling. They not only reflect, as shadow finance spokesman, ignorance of the Opposition’s own policy and Australia’s international aid program, but imply a knuckle-dragging ‘survival of the fittest’ approach to international policy. Without any prompting, Senator Joyce appears to have wandered off into policy whacko-land.
Even among the developed world’s most conservative leaders, including those whose countries carry external debt, over the past 60 years none have suggested that aid to poor countries is an either/or proposition. Leaving aside the factual clangers in his remarks for which other politicians would be castigated, Senator Joyce’s comments on Australia’s international aid raise serious questions about his fitness for the front bench.
Many of Sri Lanka’s problems can be attributed to its battle against the separatist Tamil Tigers, including impoverishing the country in order to prosecute the brutal war. But Sri Lanka has long been moving away from a more broadly representative parliamentary form of government to an increasingly narrow and authoritarian presidential model.
Having been politically rewarded for a hard line approach that brought military victory, it is unlikely that President Rajapaksa will soften his approach to Sri Lanka’s continuing problems.
Despite having to contest elections, Rajapaksa had earlier said that democracy is a luxury that Sri Lanka could not afford, and his increasingly authoritarian presidential style has reflected that opinion. Rajapaksa’s supporters regard anyone who dares oppose him or question his policies as a traitor to the country.
Yudhoyono was initially elected in 2004 promising reform. He was relatively successful, launching a major anti-corruption campaign, pushing the TNI to divest its business interests, trying to clean up the judiciary and getting the economy back on track.
It is usual to look forward to a new year with a degree of hope and optimism but, so far as much of Australia’s region is concerned, there is little chance for that. Given the conflicts that continue at varying levels of intensity in our part of the world, 2010 will probably go down in the history books as a year of missed opportunities.
For each of the conflicts in the region, a solution has been identified, if rarely taken up or meaningfully so. There is widespread agreement about how to settle many regional conflicts, but a distinct lack of political will to do so.
The separatist Islamic war in the southern Philippines is, at one level, perhaps the simplest to resolve. This is because both main parties to the conflict have agreed on the basic terms and conditions for a sustainable peace.
There is a widespread view in the West that, in its clash with radical Islamism, that Islam and democracy are fundamentally irreconcilable. The view holds that, even in the few cases where an avowedly Islamic country can hold elections, these will reflect tribal loyalties and vote-rigging rather than open and competitive politics.
There are considerable grounds for such pessimism, given the corruption of the electoral process in Afghanistan and Iran and the religious factionalism of Iraq. Even Pakistan and Bangladesh, at best, do little more than stumble between corruption and military coups.
The shooting of one of West Papua’s independence leaders, Kelly Kwalik, has opened up new opportunities for a negotiated resolution to that troubled territory’s long-running problems. Kwalik was one of two senior commanders of the Free Papua Organisation’s National Liberation Army (OPM/TPN), and had a reputation as being among the OPM hard-liners.However, despite recent Indonesian army claims, he was not behind a recent spate of shooting near the enormous Freeport gold and copper mine, a claim which was accepted by local police.
Kwalik’s death came after an informer told another group of police that he was behind the shooting, and where he was hiding. In an attempt to arrest him, police shot Kwalik in the leg. However, he died in hospital, in circumstances that remain unclear.