Australia and Indonesia—Ties That Bind
August 31, 2018
Australia and Indonesia today signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSP) that defines the relationship of these two Southeast Asian nations going forward.
The CSP sets out five priority pillars for the relationship: 1) enhancing economic and development partnership; 2) connecting people; 3) securing Indonesia’s, Australia’s and the region’s shared interests; 4) maritime cooperation; and 5) contributing to Indo-Pacific security and prosperity. The CSP is described as “marking a new chapter in the strong and vibrant relationship” between Indonesia and Australia.
The signing comes only a week after tumultuous political activity in Canberra, which saw one prime minister removed and another one installed. This has become a pattern Australians have become too familiar with, not without concern.
The signing of the CSP brings hope for two reasons important to Southeast Asia.
The first is continuity and stability. Despite the disruptive political scene in Australia over the past week, new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has taken his first venture to assert the policy continuity of his predecessor at the strategic level. That means that despite the Australian political show that grabbed global headlines, Australia’s strategic picture remains firm and its strategic trajectory stable.
In terms of Australia’s increased partnership with Indonesia, this is a very good thing.
Australians and Indonesians have worked side by side since the Bali Bombing in 2002 to counter regional terrorist influences. Combined, they have done significant good work to prevent a terrorist reoccurrence of Bali’s magnitude in either Australia or Indonesia. Recent events in the Philippines—Marawi—and the end of the Islamic State’s military domination of Iraq-Syria make this partnership the more critical. Returned foreign fighters pose a threat to Indonesia, to Australia, and to all Southeast Asian nations they came from.
Indonesia and Australia’s partnership will be a buffer and force against this.
The second reason the CSP bodes well is it underlines that both Australia and Indonesia see the region’s security in tandem with its economic growth. Clearly, both Indonesia and Australia understand that close national ties are a strong way to secure economic partnerships. Given the competition for economic influence across Southeast Asia, this tells a story not of domination, but of partnership and trust procured over careful years of renewed mutual respect.
It is a lesson worth repeating against the strategic narrative of hegemony that too often dominates discussions of Asia—South, Southeast, North, and Northeast Asia.
It goes without saying that the careful building of strategically weighted partnerships is the key lesson here. This transcends domestic politics and drives home that regional trust, understanding, and stability come from focusing on the main game between neighboring states. They allow local politics to be seen in a long-term light.
Dr. Edward Morgan is a Military Fellow in the Alliances and American Leadership Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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