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Indonesian press response to US Marines deal

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COMMENTS

23 November 2011 13:49

David McRae is a Lowy Institute research fellow. He has studied conflict, politics, democratisation and human rights issues in Indonesia for over a decade. The translations that appear below are his own.

The planned deployment of 2500 US Marines to Darwin has only periodically been front-page news in Indonesia, with coverage in some of Indonesia's main papers confined, with some exceptions, to the international pages and generally citing the interpretation of a link to China's growing influence.

There have been some critical comments this week, however, particularly from Indonesian MPs, proposing that the deployment reflects US interests in resource-rich Papua province and could damage stability in the region. The following is a selection of translated excerpts from the Indonesian-language media:

The US presence in the Asia Pacific region with its deployment of 2500 Marines in Australia, first and foremost seeks to demonstrate to China that they retain sufficient strength to face China and prevent military conflict along trade routes in the South China Sea. Additionally, the US does not want to miss the opportunity to be present and play a role in a region as dynamic as Southeast Asia.

Above, Kompas editorial, 19 November. This reflects the dominant focus of press coverage in the first days after the announcement. The placement of the Marines was not front-page news, meriting only a half-page article inside national broadsheet Kompas the day after the announcement. Weekly news magazine Tempo ran just a quarter-page item on the announcement, noting the deployment 'is judged to be a strategic move to block China, which is extending its military and economic influence to the Asia-Pacific'.

"What are its aims and reasons? Because the security threat in this region is small. It has been the flow of illegal immigrants from Afghanistan and violations of the maritime border by traditional fisherman that have frequently got Australia's attention."

Much as the reason given has been increased Australia-US military cooperation, [head of parliamentary commission I] Mahfudz [Siddiq] said, this explanation raised questions.

"Speculation could well emerge that this is America's response to the situation in eastern Indonesia, specifically Papua and the interests in securing Freeport. President Obama's presence at the ASEAN High-Level Conference and East Asia Summit need not cause Indonesia to neglect this matter.

Above, Detiknews, 21 November. Several Indonesian MPs, including the head of the parliamentary defence, intelligence and foreign affairs commission, quoted above, proposed a link between the Marine announcement and US economic interests in natural resources in Papua province, in particular the Freeport mine, which has seen recent strike action by its workforce and shootings around the mine site.

There is no connection to the security situation in Papua, and it is not to control Freeport.

Above, Investor Daily, 21 November. Indonesian Military Commander Admiral Agus Suhartono rejects the speculation surrounding Freeport, saying the deployment was to help ASEAN countries respond quickly to natural disasters. In a front-page story on 20 November, Kompas also carried comments from President Yudhoyono that he had received assurances from President Obama and Prime Minister Gillard that the deployment was not intended to disturb neighbouring countries, and was in the context of matters such as training and natural disaster response.

It would be extremely naive for us to simply believe Australia's and America's explanation of the placement of US Marines in Darwin. Put simply, in world history, vigilance against natural disasters has never reached the level of other countries moving and strengthening their deployment of battle forces.

Above, Seputar Indonesia, 22 November. Former Air Force Chief of Staff Chappy Hakim in response to statements that the Marines were intended to improve the response to natural disasters.

Of course the ASEAN region, having been relatively stable to date, is somewhat perturbed by the presence of the American military there.

Above, Investor Daily, 22 November 2011. Indonesian parliamentary speaker Marzuki Alie echoes Foreign Minister Natalegawa's comments the previous week that the deployment could create 'tensions and mistrust'.

It should be known that when a Republican Party candidate held the reins of power the US had a very aggressive policy regarding armed conflict. The conservative party in Australia is also happier identifying Australia with the West than with Asia...This all indicates that today's promises will not necessarily be kept in the future.

Above, Okezone, 21 November. University of Indonesia international law expert Hikmahanto Juwana calls for vigilance on Indonesia's part in response to the deployment, in a press release picked up by several media outlets.

 

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