Sunday, May 27, 2018

Love but Distrust Thy Neighbor: A Glance at Indonesia-Australia Relations

Image from article, with caption: The relationship between Australia and Indonesia has reportedly been the best under President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Jakarta. It should be natural that close neighbors, like Indonesia and Australia, seek to forge strong relations and mutually beneficial cooperation. Geographic proximity, however, does not always guarantee this.

Indonesia and Australia established diplomatic ties in 1949, and have had rather steady relations in politics, economy, security and education. In recent years, the ties have been tested by unfavorable public opinion, misunderstandings and governmental tensions, especially after Australia reportedly spied on former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2013, and when Indonesia executed two Australian nationals for drug smuggling in 2015.

According to experts, distrust and anxiety regularly emerge in the bilateral ties.

During a seminar on Indonesian public diplomacy [JB emphasis] toward Australia in November, Evi Fitriani, head of the Miriam Budiardjo Resource Center (MBRC) at the University of Indonesia, said the relations, which she likened to a rollercoaster ride, have historically been dependent on the attitudes of the countries' leaders.

Riefqi Muna, a senior researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), said, however, that all crises between Indonesia and Australia tend to normalize quickly. ...

Education Nurtures Friendship

Cooperation in education is one of the main highlights of the relationship between Indonesia and Australia.

In January, Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education Muhammad Nasir said Indonesia will open its doors to foreign universities. Science, technology, engineering, mathematics, business and management were identified as priority subject areas.

The minister said the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland were among the institutions that expressed interest in opening their Indonesian branches.

According to data from Unesco's Institute for Statistics on the global flow of tertiary-level students, in 2016 there were 10,676 Indonesians studying in Australia, significantly more than in other countries, with 8,922 in the United States, 8,039 in Malaysia and 2,761 in the United Kingdom.

Florischa Ayu Tresnatri, an Indonesian student pursuing her master's degree at the Australian National University in Canberra, said she liked the culture and the fact that Australia is not that far from her country.

"The culture is good, here they really appreciate one another … I think [in Australia] the courses taught are more practical, compared to other countries where they seem very theoretical," she told the Jakarta Globe.

In 2018, more than 2,100 Australian students will come to Indonesia to live, work and study under Australia's New Colombo Plan mobility program.

According to the Australian embassy, from 40 destinations in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Philippines, Fiji, South Korea and Nepal, Indonesia is the students' top choice.

Lachlan Haycock, a recipient of the 2016 New Colombo Plan scholarship, who studied at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta and interned at the Jakarta Globe, explains this in the following way:

"The decision to choose Indonesia made a lot of sense, considering Australia's geographical proximity and strategic links with Indonesia. ... However, it was mostly of high personal value for me as a student, traveler and individual." ...

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