Here's a brutal assessment of Australia's regional diplomacy by Indonesian insiders

Tony Abbott meeting then-Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno in 2013. Getty / Oscar Siagian

Two influential Indonesian commentators have a scathing assessment the Australian diplomatic and strategic agenda in Asia, arguing the country is “out of sync with the emerging geopolitical environment”.

Following a series of consecutive bilateral crises on the death penalty for Australian citizens and the handling of the people smuggling trade, Endy Bayuni and Sabam Siagian say Australia should not make Indonesia its “most important relationship”, because “not only does it make no different (sic) to Indonesia, but it also makes us uncomfortable, since we can never reciprocate the feeling. Australia is barely in the top five of Indonesia’s most important relationships; some may even say that it would be lucky to be in the top 10.”

Siagan is a former ambassador to Australia and both he and Bayuni are former editors-in-chief of the Jakarta Post.

They write that calling Indonesia Australia’s most important relationship “smacks of hypocrisy when Australia bypasses Indonesia in economic ties and when Canberra continues to regard Indonesia more as a potential threat than a friend, evidenced by the 2013 revelation of a massive Australian eavesdropping operation on Indonesian leaders.”

There’s really no holding back. They’re bringing up all the bad memories.

But Jakarta could be forgiven for feeling overlooked lately. Australia has been busy doing trade deals with China, South Korea, and India while a ring of millions of tonnes of naval steel was thrown between the two countries, and people smugglers who tried to get through were towed back to Java.

The article argues:

… the important question that Australia must answer to be able to craft a more effective foreign policy in building relations with Indonesia and the rest of Asia.

Australia is struggling with existential uncertainty. Is it part of Asia? Does it want to become part of Asia?

Its economic future and hence prosperity, is increasingly tied to Asia. China is by far its largest trading partner and Australia is also trading more and more with its Asian neighbors. But that is probably as “Asian” as Australia gets; that, and in addition to its geographic location and the rising Asian mix in its population.

At the very least, it serves to highlight the current focus of Australian diplomacy in Asia on a number of trade deals, and not much else.

The full piece is here.

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