The short answer is ‘not very much’. And that’s a good thing. In the past we’ve had government and opposition policy pronouncements such as the 2009 Defence White Paper, proposed asylum seekers solutions in East Timor, American Marines rotating through our north and the proposed towing of boats back to Indonesia that have raised the eyebrows of our near neighbours. Some of the concern has been about language directly concerning Indonesia, some about a lack of consultation and some about the way we see regional security in general. This time, neither the text of the National Security Strategy nor its launch have caused much of a stir in Jakarta, at least so far.
Let’s start with the text itself. As my colleague Graeme Dobell noted last week, there’s a separate section on Indonesia (page 12) which describes the security relationship as ‘deep and productive’. What’s notable about the outline is the number of key areas where there is solid and ongoing cooperation and the concrete agreements such as the Lombok Treaty that frame that cooperation. This isn’t to say the security relationship is perfect or comprehensive, but it shows that we’ve arrived at a point where there is a strong foundation with positive future potential.
The rest of the Strategy reinforces messages from the Asian Century White Paper about Indonesia as a partner country and an important and emerging member of the international community, whether in security architecture or the G20 (pages 27, 38 respectively).
For its part, the Indonesian media had no reaction to the launch of the Strategy. Neither English nor Indonesian language newspapers, in print and online, nor TV broadcasts (I was in Jakarta at the time) made mention of the launch. Granted, the big story last week was Jakarta’s flooding and recovery (see image below), but a largish Australian policy announcement usually creeps somewhere into the international section.
What this tells me is that Australia-Indonesia relations are in a good place. And while it mightn’t have the status of the ANZUS alliance as one of the ‘pillars of national security’ as outlined in the NSS, I’d argue that the maturity and importance of the relationship (as outlined by the Strategy itself) earns it a place as a pillar or sub-pillar of our national security strategy. There’s much that could happen between now and the future projections of the NSS, but for now, the future of relations with Indonesia seem relatively bright.
Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist.