ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Indonesia must benefit from US’ Asia pivot
Publication Date : 28-08-2013
Indonesia must make the most of its high level relationship with the US, which was marked by new commitments on military sales and cooperation, especially to further its national interests, an analyst has said.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, during his visit to Jakarta on Monday, reaffirmed Indonesia’s central role in President Barack Obama’s policy of rebalancing Washington’s relationship priorities in the world.
But Dewi Fortuna Anwar, the deputy for political affairs to the Vice President, said that Indonesia must be able to make the most of stronger cooperation with the US, not to mention leveraging stronger influence, in return for Jakarta’s willingness to provide platforms to support Washington’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.
“We should not underestimate what we have given to the US. There are always national interests that we must pursue from Jakarta’s relationship with Washington,” Dewi said on Tuesday.
After having bilateral talks with Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro in Jakarta, Hagel announced a deal to sell eight brand new Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and Longbow radars worth US$500 million to the Indonesian Military (TNI), which includes pilot training and maintenance.
It is among the largest military sales from the US since Washington lifted its embargo on selling lethal arms to Indonesia in 2005. The embargo was imposed in response
to repeated human rights abuses allegedly committed by the Indonesian Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) in West Papua and Timor Leste (then East Timor), which killed more than 100 unarmed civilians, including two US citizens.
In 2012, the US and Indonesian sealed a $700 million defense deal to procure 24 refurbished Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon jets.
Washington was said to be determined to help build TNI’s capability as part if its bid to enhance security ties with its Asia Pacific friends and reshape its role in the region amid Beijing’s growing military clout and territorial assertiveness.
“Helping ensure the region’s security and prosperity is a goal the US strongly shares,” Hagel said after his meeting with Purnomo.
But the defense deal with Indonesia has once again been criticised by human rights activists, particularly given TNI’s poor human rights record in Papua and a recent raid on a civilian prison by Kopassus members in Yogyakarta.
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) and the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) “condemned” the decision by the US to approve the Apache sale, saying, “the US’ concern for greater respect of human rights and justice in Indonesia are nothing more than hollow rhetoric”.
Dewi acknowledged that having the military deals amid concerns over the alleged human rights abuses by TNI soldiers could be seen as a good sign. Indonesia could in fact gain more by calling for more cooperation in other sectors such as economy and education, Dewi said.
Dewi also added that Indonesia should also be more assertive given its stature in the region and must be able to be in a position where the US feels compelled to consult with it first every time Washington wants to create a policy that could affect the region.
“In this sense, Indonesia must also be able to improve the bargaining position of Asean as a grouping as well as its individual member states. Today, Southeast Asian countries should no longer be considered as ‘pawns’,” Dewi said.
The University of Indonesia’s international law expert Hikmahanto Juwana said that the Apache deal reflected “normalized” military ties between the two countries.
The deal also indicated the growing stature of Indonesia as an important partner for the US in regional security, “particularly in the South China Sea”.
The US, he said, wanted Indonesia to serve as “mediator” to prevent the cold war from turning into “hot war”.