Christopher Lethbridge writes:
The joint communiqué from Friday's discussions between Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd marks a new maturity in both the Australian-Indonesian relationship and the asylum seeker debate. Epitomised by the announcement of regional crisis talks slated to begin within the month, the decision for Indonesia to host 'key origin, transit, and destination countries' in a crisis conference discussing the 'irregular movement of persons' should be viewed as a significant development.
Firstly, it reflects a clear articulation that it is neither fair nor reasonable to expect any single country to solve this by itself. Shuffling boats across international borders as a means of accountability shifting cannot solve the underlying issue. Secondly, it is the recognition by senior government officials that Indonesia's foreign policy approach of 'consensus building', including with regional partners such as Malaysia as a key transit point, is uniquely suited to this particular challenge. Third, there is recognition that Indonesia's stature would only be enhanced by utilising its talent for 'consensus building' to resolve this issue. Further, and importantly, Indonesia's leadership elevates the bilateral relationship and emphasises its basis in the region, rather than leaving it prone to being hijacked by the issue.
Necessarily, Indonesia possesses the skills and credibility required for extracting an agreement amongst such a diverse collection of actors. Indonesia's record for building consensus should not be taken lightly, particularly with its recent success in bringing Myanmar in from the cold, and its long-standing involvement in ASEAN.
This call for an intrinsically Indonesian approach to creating Consensus through Dialogue was clear, albeit implicit, in the Q&A dialogue held in Jakarta last week. However, few have been able to articulate what this looks like up to now (see YouTube above from 1:47, in particular 4:26; Tim Lindsey sums it up nicely up at 8:43).
Stopping the boats is arguably more effective than turning them around. Indonesia is willing to lead in the identification of a solution, however the real challenge will be selling this approach to the Australian public. This policy will take time and managing Australian public expectations will be a full time task, especially in an election year.
We should all watch this space with interest.