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Issue #1602      July 17, 2013

Editorial

Indonesia strategic priority

Most of the tabloid media’s coverage of the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s recent visit to Indonesia has focused on asylum seekers. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Rudd issued a joint Communiqué which “reaffirmed their commitment to continue to develop a regional solution, involving countries of origin, transit and destination which covers elements of prevention, early detection and protection, to combating trafficking in persons and people smuggling and other related transnational crimes.”

The two leaders “stressed the importance of avoiding unilateral actions which might jeopardise such a comprehensive regional approach and which might cause operational or other difficulties to any party.” In other words a strong, but diplomatic rejection of Opposition leader Tony Abbott’s “turn the boats back.” The PM supported proposals by Indonesia for a conference of key origin, transit, and destination countries “to explore concrete operational and policy responses, including regional approaches and efforts to enhance border security, in addressing irregular movement of persons.”

Trade, in particular beef, was also on the agenda, with the PM announcing a $60 million package over 10 years to establish an Indonesia-Australia red meat and cattle forum. Indonesia has imposed import caps on Australian beef following the temporary ban on live exports. It is inviting Australian investors to develop a beef industry there. “I believe a core message from this meeting is we need to expand our economic horizons – do much more in terms of the economic relationship between us,” Rudd told a gathering in Indonesia following his talks with the Indonesian President.

The Gillard government’s Australia in the Asian Century White Paper devoted a section to developing stronger relations with the “priority” Asian nations of China, Japan, Indonesia, India and South Korea and the need for deeper and more comprehensive bilateral ties – public and private sector and institutional with those countries. This was one of the prime aims of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s visit to Indonesia. “Indonesia is critical to Australia’s interests. I believe Australia is critical to Indonesia’s interests. Indonesia is also emerging as an economic powerhouse of South East Asia. GDP of one trillion US dollars ... by 2030 it is estimated to be the seventh largest economy in the world; and by 2050 the fourth largest economy in the world behind China, the US and India. Something big is happening in Indonesia and everyone in Australia and the world should pay attention. This is a population of 250 million people …”

Apart from seeking to strengthen Australia’s economic ties with Indonesia in the interests of big business, Rudd’s other priority is defence cooperation. Australia, as US imperialism’s deputy in the region, has a particular role in drawing Indonesia into the US fold. Indonesia was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It has a large Muslim population and strategically is important to Australia and the US in the US’s plans for domination over the Asian Pacific and in particular for the containment of China. Rudd’s main focus, almost to the point of obsession, is China.

“Both Leaders reiterated their commitment to strengthening defence and security cooperation, including through the signing of the Defence Cooperation Arrangement by Defence Ministers in September 2012. Both leaders welcomed expanding cooperation, including in strategic policy and planning, and capability building,” the Communiqué said. In an oblique reference to China, and in line with the US’s wishes to control the seas off China, it continued: “Both countries called for the early conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea.”

“Our defence relationship is strong. It’s our most important in the region. We have signed defence cooperation agreements and we’ve held our inaugural defence ministers meeting only last year”, Rudd said in a speech following the meeting. He reaffirmed the government’s support for Indonesia’s ongoing occupation of West Papua and agreed to co-operate in relation to East Timor. “Australia, Bapak President, wants to work with you in a way which you would best suggest we can be helpful in making sure that we bring about a long term, stable, peaceful, prosperous and secure Papua as part of the Republic of Indonesia,” Rudd said in the same speech.

The aim is US hegemony and Australia has an important to role to play in locking Indonesia into the US’s camp as a strong ally. As Labor’s 2013 Defence White Paper noted, “The United States will continue to be the world’s strongest military power and the most influential strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future.”

Next article – Acknowledged achievements

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