Stereotypes do our peoples an injustice


I was taken aback when I learnt that in a recent Lowy Institute survey, 54 per cent of Australian respondents doubted that Indonesia would act responsibly in its international relations. Indeed, the most persistent problem in our relations is the persistence of age-old stereotypes – misleading, simplistic mental caricatures that depict the other side in a bad light. Even in the age of the internet, there are Australians who still see Indonesia as an authoritarian country, or as a military dictatorship, or as a hotbed of Islamic extremism, or even as an expansionist power.

And in Indonesia, there are people who remain afflicted with Australia-phobia, who believe that the notion of ”white Australia” persists, that Australia harbours ill-intentions towards Indonesia, and is either sympathetic or supports separatist elements in our country.

We must expunge these preposterous mental caricatures if we are to achieve a more resilient partnership.

I want all Australians to know that Indonesia is a beautiful archipelago, but we are infinitely more than a beach playground with coconut trees. We are the world’s third-largest democracy, the largest country in South-East Asia. We are passionate about our independence, moderation, religious freedom and tolerance. And far from being hostile, we want to create a strategic environment marked by a ”million friends and zero enemy”.

Indonesians cherish our national unity and territorial integrity. Our nationalism is about forging harmony and unity among our many ethnic and religious groups. That is why the success of peace and reconciliation in Aceh and Papua is a matter of national survival. We would like Australians to understand and appreciate that.

The first challenge to our partnership is to bring a change in each other’s mindset. The bottom line is that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to people-to-people contact, when it comes to appreciating the facts of each other’s national life.

The second challenge is how to manage relations that are bound to become more complex, more dense and more hectic. It is the law of diplomacy that as two countries get closer and interact at an increasing velocity, we will experience speed bumps. Our job is not to lament these problems, but to solve them.

The third challenge is how to make more of our partnership. Indonesia is one of the world’s emerging economies, South-East Asia’s largest economy, with the third-highest growth among G20 countries, a large market of 230 million people with a growing middle-class and a wealth of natural resources.

Australia is a developed country, the 18th-largest economy in the world, one of the world’s most competitive and innovative economies, with the best corporate governance.

But these impressive facts need to be reflected in our partnership. Our bilateral trade stood at $US6.7 billion in 2009, an 18 per cent increase in the past five years, but it is still growing at a much lower rate than Australia’s trade with ASEAN. We need to encourage our private sectors to do more business.

The fourth challenge is how to address new issues: terrorism, the tsunami, people smuggling and drug offenders.

The new reality is that non-traditional threats are becoming more prominent. Terrorism, infectious disease, financial crisis and climate change – to mention only a few – threaten the lives and wellbeing of our citizens. Our partnership, to be relevant, must develop the capacity to deal with these issues.

I believe that Indonesia and Australia are on the same page on the need to foster a more democratic world order to reflect the changing global political and economic landscapes. We are both firm believers in the virtue of multilateralism and in the need to reform the United Nations system.

In anticipation of what may well be the ”Asian century”, we are committed to strengthen and evolve the regional architecture to meet the challenges ahead.

People smuggling is an issue that seems likely to continue in the short term. We both believe in the imperative of the Bali process, which recognises that people smuggling is a regional problem that requires the origin, transit and destination countries to work together. We have now worked out a bilateral mechanism of co-operation so that future people smuggling cases can be handled in a predictable and co-ordinated way.

We will speed up the process of relocating illegal migrants now stranded in Indonesia to another country. Now that we know much more about their modus operandi, our respective authorities will intensify their co-operation to disrupt people smuggling activities. And to strengthen our legal instruments, the Indonesian government will soon introduce a law that will criminalise people smuggling.

In the fight against terrorism, the Indonesian National Police and the Australian Federal Police will continue to work closely together, and in the political field we are co-operating to strengthen the growth of democracy in our region.

I look forward to a day in the near future when opinion leaders all over the world take a good look at the things we are doing so well together. And they will say: these two used to be worlds apart. But they now have a fair dinkum partnership. Why can’t we all do likewise?

Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is President of the Republic of Indonesia. This is an edited extract from his address yesterday to the Australian Parliament.

2 comments so far

  1. Anna on

    Nice article, but Indonesia must do more to show its change to the world.

  2. William Thomson on

    Hei ! my friend , l like your blog and your article. you give me a good info , i will follow you!

    action is character,if we never did anything, we wouldn’t be anybody.


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