1) Editorial Canberra and Jakarta rift must urgently be repaired
Bilateral relationships as important as that between Jakarta and Canberra deserve better than the brouhaha surrounding the unilateral action by Indonesia’s army chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, in suspending military ties with Australia. The disjointed and contradictory statements that have accompanied the move — amid firm indications President Joko Widodo was not even aware what his military chief had done — does not do Indonesia and its governing processes any credit.
It remains unclear what provoked General Gatot to take the action that he did. He is a long-time critic of Australia and the Australian military, and if there were issues about West Papua raised by teaching material supplied to an Indonesian Kopassus special forces officer training at a defence base in Perth, the Indonesian military chief seems to have been keen to exploit them to the full.
General Gatot has admitted he received a statement of regret from the Australian military for whatever happened in Perth. Yet he has sought to conflate the issue further into one that includes his concern about the rotation of US marines through Darwin which, he has pointed out, is close to West Papua and Indonesia’s giant gas block. He also has raised issues about the alleged recruitment by Australia of Indonesian officers as informers.
Added to the mix are claims that an Indonesian officer on the training course in Perth was offended by a poster that allegedly ridiculed his country’s founding five principles, the Pancasila. Reports also suggest the Indonesian military’s action is linked to Wikipedia references to the father-in-law of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his controversial military service in West Papua. How this can relate to Australia in 2017 is unclear.
The deeper mystery lies, however, in what appears to be General Gatot’s initiative in acting unilaterally to suspend military relations — or, rather, some aspects of them — without reference to Mr Joko or even Indonesia’s Defence Minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu. Mr Joko’s spokesman, Johan Budi, was emphatic in saying, “This was not a decision of the President,” while Mr Ryamizard emphasised that “relations with Australia are going great”. However, Mr Joko said yesterday he supported the decision to suspend military ties as a “matter of principle”. This statement underscores the difficulty the relationship is in. There is no doubt that, for whatever reason, General Gatot has sought to exploit events for his own ends.
We understand the political challenge Mr Joko has in navigating this crisis. For reasons of domestic politics, he must not appear weak in relation to Australia. He will be mindful of concerns raised by General Gatot and Mr Ryamizard, although the military has clearly overstepped the bounds of its authority.
Amid this confusion, it is imperative that Defence Minister Marise Payne and our senior military leaders move swiftly to provide Jakarta with the information and assurances that will repair whatever damage has been done to the bilateral relationship.
Ms Payne says she has known about the matter since November and appears to have relied largely on senior Australian Defence Force officers to deal with it. An official report by Defence has not been completed, although The Australian understands Chief of Army Angus Campbell will visit Jakarta to convey the results.
This bilateral relationship deserves our closest attention. We have been able to deal with previous crises because of the underlying strength and depth of the relationship. Edward Snowden’s disclosure about attempts by our Defence Signals Directorate to carry out surveillance of president Yudhoyono, his wife and his advisers posed a bigger threat to relations in 2013 than anything that conceivably could have happened at the Perth training base last year. Indeed, bilateral ties survived it and were soon restored to the mutually beneficial warmth that had long underpinned them. Similarly, tensions over the East Timor crisis in 1999 and the suspension of the live cattle trade in 2011 were soon overcome. So, too, was the fallout following the executions of members of the Bali Nine in 2015.
What is needed now is similar maturity and good sense to avoid a major new rupture in relations. Australia must do what it can to speedily smooth whatever ruffled feathers there are. But it is no less incumbent on Indonesia to do the same and deal decisively with whatever internal pressures and motivations lie behind General Gatot taking the action that he did. It is in the interests of both Australia and Indonesia that cool heads prevail and there is a swift restoration of full military co-operation without delay.
3) ’Alarming’ Indonesia military questioned military ties, experts say
Any further political rise of the head of Indonesia's armed forces, General Gatot Nurmantyo, could be a threat to Australia's vital military relationship with Indonesia, Australian Strategic Policy Institute head Peter Jennings said, adding he thought it was 'alarming' that the General appeared to be questioning the ties.
Australian National University Indonesian Politics Associate Professor Greg Fealy said this would have come straight from Indonesia's President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and constituted "a complete back down".
Jokowi is just being a bit delicate about it but the intent of what he did was unmistakeable. He said that yes Indonesians must not be insulted by other countries, but nonetheless he instructed his coordinating minister to go and make a very clear cut public statement that the disruption was just restricted to language training.
We saw the president put back in his place the head of the armed forces," he said.
Mr Jennings, a former Deputy Secretary in Defence, said while the current spat is unlikely to have a major long term impact on relations, it was alarming that they looked so fragile and General Gatot appeared to question the worth of the ties.
"it has always, certainly in the last 10 years, it has been the defence relationship that has been the stable element of bilateral relationship even when there has been problems at the political level.
"So what's been alarming about this incident is what used to be considered to the the sort of pillar of stability in relations which was the mil to mil contact seems to be now questioned by this individual," he said.
Mr Jennings said it would be damaging if General Gatot succeeded in any political ambitions he might have.
"If that is where he's heading then maybe that is going to complicate the defence relationship but it sounds to me like it would also complicate their relationship with the US and China," he said.
General Gatot said on Thursday that the reason he made the decision to suspend military co-operation was there were "hurtful" teaching materials saying that West Papua, which Australia recognises as part of Indonesia, should be independent and other materials mocking Indonesia's founding principles, the Pancasila.
While Defence Minister Marise Payne refused to confirm what the materials contained, she said they were removed and suggested they were not "culturally appropriate.
Now, Greens leader Richard Di Natale slammed Senator Payne over the decision, saying if they were about West Papua then Australia had "betrayed" residents of the region which Australia officially recognises as part of Indonesia under the Lombok treaty.
"The government had the opportunity to show some integrity and stand up for the human rights of the West Papuan people but instead they betrayed them. Rather than rewriting our military training manuals we should be rewriting our policy to help end one of the longest-standing human rights crises in our region," Mr Di Natale said.
Indonesian media has reported that Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the headmaster of the language school at the SAS base at Campbell Barracks has been suspended.
But the Defence department said this was not so. "No, the principal has not been stood down. As Minister Payne has noted, the Army inquiry into the matter is not yet finalised," a spokesman for Defence said.
Indonesia's special forces had been participating in language courses at the Australian special forces base at Campbell barracks in Perth.
4) Internal cable suggests Indonesia never intended to fully suspend military ties
Jakarta: An internal Indonesian military cable issued last month states the suspension of co-operation between the Australian and Indonesian military only affected activities under one sub-committee, suggesting Indonesia never intended to completely suspend military ties.
The December 29 cable, seen by Fairfax Media, was sent on behalf of military chief Gatot Nurmantyo, and said activities under the joint operation and exercise sub committee were being halted.
There are four sub-committees under the Australia Indonesia High Level Committee, which brings together the chiefs of both Australia and Indonesia's defence forces and convened for the first time in April 2013.
Other sub-committees include intelligence and logistics.
Indonesian military spokesman Major-General Wuryanto confirmed to Fairfax Media that navy joint patrols and co-operation between the two countries to combat people smuggling had never been affected by the suspension.
For a dramatic two days it appeared Australia and Indonesia were facing another bilateral crisis after Indonesian newspaper Kompasbroke the story that an Indonesian officer had complained about material taught at Campbell Barracks, an Australian army base in Perth.
The material related to sensitive issues including East Timor, West Papuan independence and Indonesia's state ideology, Pancasila.
"This does not mean the termination of defence co-operation as a whole, as has been reported in the media lately," he said.
Defence analyst Evan Laksmana from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Indonesia said it was wrong to suggest Indonesia wanted a blanket ban on defence co-operation with Australia and was now backing down.
"I have seen the letter from our side of things in which from the beginning it was always limited," he said.
"I think there was confusion because there was at least 24 hours before there was clarification from the parties concerned about the extent to which there is a freeze."
"I don't think it is true at all that ... we wanted a blanket freeze and now we are backing down."
Mr Laksmana also said there was no solid evidence that this was an individual attempt by General Nurmantyo to suspend military co-operation because he didn't like Australia.
"I think we need to be very careful with assigning personal motives to Gatot as to the reason behind the suspension," he said.
The executive director of the Institute for Defence, Security and Peace Studies in Indonesia, Mufti Makarim, said the internal cable, which was sent to the Indonesian infantry, navy and air force chiefs, only mentioned military co-operation under the joint exercise and operations subcommittee.
"It was not a postponement of all military cooperation between Indonesia and Australia," he said.
Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne issued a carefully worded statement on Wednesday saying that "some interaction between the two defence organisations had been postponed" until the concerns raised by the Indonesian officer were resolved.
"Co-operation in other areas is continuing," she said in the statement.
President Joko Widodo appeared to confirm the diplomatic rift the following day saying that while it was an operational issue it was a matter of principle and Australia and Indonesia had agreed to stay out of each other's internal affairs.
However his chief security minister later released the statement saying the suspension only affected the language training program and the problem would not interfere with bilateral relations.
President Jokowi's press office later tweeted Mr Wiranto's statement with the comment: "Clear and direct"
Indonesian defence expert Natalie Sambhi, a research fellow at the Perth USAsia Centre, believed some element of the suspension was certainly meant to be a reprimand to Australia because of the sensitivity of West Papua.
"I'm curious about why the messaging out of Indonesia was so messy, not only between the agencies but also between Gatot's office and the navy," she said.
"It suggests to me that this was always intended to be limited, in hindsight, now we think about it."