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Overlooked stories of 2010: Power shift

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COMMENTS

16 December 2010 10:37

Greta Nabbs-Keller is writing a PhD on Indonesian foreign policy at the Griffith Asia Institute.

The overlooked story that immediately sprang to mind with respect to my usual Interpreter topic, Indonesia, was President Obama's November visit to Jakarta, on which there's been little analysis.

But inherent is a much bigger story, one which Hugh White touched on toward the end of his Quarterly Essay and which Lowy Executive Director Michael Wesley partially highlighted in August on The Interpreter. The important story is the implications of the global power shift to East Asia for Indonesia and, as a corollary of this, Australia.

Now it may be that furious analysis and dynamic debate has already commenced in Canberra, but what White and Wesley highlighted is that it is in Australia's relationship with Indonesia where Canberra will most acutely feel the reverberations of China's ascendancy – expanded defence capabilities, growing economic success and a concomitant rise in Jakarta's diplomatic leverage, particularly as it is courted by rival giants, the US and China. 

Admittedly, Indonesia's continued success is in no way inevitable and is contingent on many variables; not least, ongoing economic growth and stability in China, and the nature of Indonesia's post-Yudhoyono political landscape.

But there seems to have been little in-depth journalistic or scholarly focus in Australia on the implications for Indonensia of the politico-security developments that unfolded in Asia this year. For example, what does the centrality of ASEAN in the expanded East Asia Summit and ASEAN-Plus mechanisms mean for Indonesia's regional leadership and diplomatic clout, given there will be annual summits of the leaders of the US, China, India, Japan, Korea and Russia in Southeast Asia'

Has China's assertion of its 'core' maritime territorial interests given the Suharto-era rationale for ASEAN as a 'strategic buffer' against China renewed vigour' What will the growing strategic appeal of Indonesia to the US mean for Jakarta, on top of a decade of Chinese infrastructure investment, economic and cultural exchange'

This is a story about Indonesia with important implications for Australia. The story is a potential game-changer, in which Australia's influence in Jakarta is incrementally undermined and the strategic certainty of Australia's traditional economic and military superiority over Indonesia can no longer be taken for granted. If only someone would write it.

Photo by Flickr user WorldIslandInfo.

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