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Weekend catch-up: Indonesia, global governance, Northeast Asia and more

Weekend catch-up: Indonesia, global governance, Northeast Asia and more
Published 25 Jan 2014   Follow @SamRoggeveen

Bringing together the best longer Interpreter articles you were too busy to read this week.

 A few great posts on Indonesia this week. Lowy institute Nonresident Fellow James Goldrick provided some context to the revelations that Australian naval vessels had entered Indonesia waters while 'turning back' asylum seeker vessels:

Media reports of the Royal Australian Navy and Customs and Border Protection Service's recent breaches of Indonesia's territorial waters contain little detail of the actual transgressions, but it is most likely that they result from confusion over the way in which those waters are defined.

Under the Law of the Sea as laid down within the 1982 UN Convention, territorial waters are generally taken as extending 12 nautical miles out from land. However, there are provisions within the Convention which make special arrangements for nations which have more complex geography. One of the most important components of the 1982 Convention was its recognition in Part IV of the special nature of archipelagic states. This was an innovation which owed much to Indonesia and the Philippines, who lobbied strongly over many years for the special status of archipelagos.

An archipelago is defined within the Convention as a 'group of islands, including parts of islands, interconnecting waters and other natural features which are so closely interrelated that such islands, waters and other natural features form an intrinsic geographical, economic and political entity, or which historically have been regarded as such.' 

A post on Friday from KPMG's Director of National Security, Gary Hogan, identified a cyclical pattern in the Australia-Indonesia bilateral relationship, and argued that the recent downturn in the relationship resulting from the Snowden leaks was 'predictable, if not inevitable':

When bilateral relations have fractured in the past, alarums and excursions have usually taken a few years to subside before things resume their normally positive trend line. The same will probably happen this time. But restoring the relationship after this most recent dispute might provide our leaders and officials additional challenges not encountered in the past.

Inconveniently, Indonesia happens to face a general election this year. Its politicians are already electioneering. Denouncing foreign interference and talking tough on threats to sovereignty make for good polling.

Yudhoyono recently aired his injured personal feelings over both the allegations and the Australian Prime Minister's non-apology in his prematurely authored memoir, Selalu Ada Pilihan: Untuk Pencinta Demokrasi dan Para Pemimpin Indonesia Mendatang (There is Always a Choice: For Democracy Lovers and Indonesia's Next Leaders).

Given the significant personal capital invested by Yudhoyono in good relations with Australia over many years, his irritation and sense of betrayal are no doubt genuine. Our foremost friend and advocate will cut us no breaks this time.

Also on Indonesia, Stephen Grenville looked at the role our national broadsheet (The Australian) has played in the recent escalation of tensions between Australia and Indonesia: [fold]

In an on the record conversation with the Australian Financial Review late last year, The Australian's Chief Editor Chris Mitchell offered his opinion that Indonesia is 'probably the most corrupt country on earth' (the commonly-accepted measure, from Transparency International, rates more than 60 countries as more corrupt than Indonesia). He also argues that Indonesia has been soft on terrorism: 'the official view from Jakarta and the Indonesian papers all through 2003 was Jemaah Islamiyah was a charitable organisation and that Abu Bakar Bashir was a holy man.'

It's true that Bashir has a vocal support group in Indonesia but to see this as the 'official view' is an amazing assertion, given the record. Bashir was imprisoned without trial from 1978 to 1982 and then spent the next 17 years in exile in Malaysia to avoid re-incarceration. In April 2003 he was charged with treason and given a three-year jail sentence on other offences. In 2004 he was charged with involvement in bomb attacks and was sentenced to two and a half years jail, overturned by the Supreme Court in 2006. In 2010 he was charged with involvement in terrorist activities and sentenced to 15 years in jail. In the democratic post-Soeharto era, it was harder to find judicial cause to jail Bashir but you can't seriously argue that the authorities weren't trying.

 We had two insightful essays on global governance this week, both from the Director of the Lowy Institute's G20 Studies Centre, Mike Callaghan. On Monday, Mike wrote on the US Congress' failure to approve reforms which would have changed the governance arrangements of the IMF:

Not surprisingly, the reforms are considered extremely important by the emerging markets and they also expressed their disappointment and called on the IMF to implement the reforms.

But it is not up to the IMF. It all depends on the US Congress. Major reforms in the IMF require an 85% voting share approval. With a share of 16.75%, the US has a veto. If the reforms had been passed, the US voting share would have declined only slightly and it would have maintained its veto. So the world waits for US leadership. When will that happen?

As Truman notes, US credibility has been damaged. The US will be less trusted to honour agreements in this area. The BRICS will continue to criticise the IMF as being excessively dominated by advanced countries and will continue to promote alternative bodies, such as a BRIC development bank and currency support arrangements. And the credibility of the G20 has also taken a body blow. The reform of IMF governance was meant to be one of its major achievements.

And then on Friday, Mike commented on Prime Minister Tony Abbott's speech in Davos about Australia's priorities for the G20 in 2014:

 The most notable thing from the Prime Minister's speech was the reference to a three-page communiqué from the Brisbane Summit. If this can be achieved, it would compare well with the 27-page leaders' declaration at St Petersburg (and over 400 pages of supporting documentation).

Prime Minister Abbott deserves a bouquet for his commitment to brevity. But producing a short, meaningful and agreed upon communiqué is significantly harder than agreeing on a longer statement. Stick with it, PM.

The speech was, of course, only part of the Prime Minister's engagement in Davos. His arguably more important commitments were his meetings with other leaders. In his speech he said 'I promise you: we will make your trip worthwhile'. I hope he convinced the G20 leaders he met in Davos that a trip to Brisbane in November will be worth it and gave them a sense that there will be some significant outcomes from the Brisbane Summit.

Bottom line: there wasn't much new information about Australia's priorities for the G20 in 2014, but at least the Prime Minister is beginning to engage on the issue.

Switching back to Asia, Michael Clarke from Griffith Asia Institute submitted an in-depth post on recent developments concerning China, the Uyghur, and Xinjiang province:

The ongoing incidents of unrest and violence have prompted the regional government to announce on 17 January that it will double the public security bureau's 'counter-terrorism' budget for 2014 in an effort to 'curb the spread of religious extremism as well as prevent severe violent terrorist attacks and mass incidents from happening'. But perhaps more worrying for China's Uyghurs is the language the authorities are now deploying to describe their approach to Xinjiang's problems. In announcing the budget increase, Nur Berki, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, stated that the authorities 'must constantly strike hard against violent terrorism, showing no mercy, in accordance with the law, and maintaining a high-handed posture'.

A corollary of this 'high-handed posture' towards 'terrorism' is the CCP's evident desire to take up the ideological fight to those advocating greater autonomy or indeed independence for Xinjiang Uyghurs, be they within China or without. Days after Ilham Tohti's arrest the Global Times published a revealing editorial in this respect. 'Tohti', the piece claimed, 'is no ordinary Joe' but someone with links to the World Uyghur Congress and the West who has used his position to give 'aggressive lectures in class' on the Uyghur issue. Moreover, through his criticism of the Chinese government and his questioning of whether such acts as the 28 October 2013 incident in Tiananmen Square constituted 'terrorism', Tohti 'was attempting to find a moral excuse for terrorists'. Most damningly, the editorial suggests that the academic was the 'brains' behind the 'terrorists', who without such guidance would 'be like a clueless mob'. 

This arguably reveals the reason behind Tohti's arrest: Tohti's criticisms of the Party's line on the Uyghur and Xinjiang are seen as providing moral, intellectual and/or ideological succour to disaffected Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

And this week The Interpreter welcomed a new regular contributor on Northeast Asia, Vaughan Winterbottom. Vaughan's first post looked at China-Japan tensions at the start of 2014:

Sino-Japanese relations got off to a rocky start in January. 

Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming kicked off a tit for tat diplomatic spat on the first day of the year. In the first paragraph of an op-ed published in The Telegraph, Liu likened Japanese militarism to Lord Voldemort, of Harry Potter notoriety. He denounced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's end of year visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, and said Abe is doing 'his upmost to beautify (Japan's) history of militaristic aggression and colonial rule.'

Japanese Ambassador Keiichi Hayashi responded in kind on January 5. Mr. Hayashi managed to summon the wizardly analogy even earlier in his Telegraph op-ed, titled 'China risks becoming Asia's Voldemort.' 

The two ambassadors appeared on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman on January 8 (video above). They refused to be seated together. Paxman, in typical pugilistic style, focused his line of questioning on the Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands. Unsurprisingly, the ambassadors disagreed on everything, including on whether there was disagreement in the first place. 

Ambassador Liu arguably comes out on top in the interview, despite wrongly asserting that the Cairo Declaration was issued in 1945 (it was 1943). The declaration called for the return of all territories occupied by Japan, including the Diaoyu-Senkaku. Representing the Chinese side in Cairo was Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China. No word yet on whether Ambassador Liu's comments amount to official recognition of the wartime achievements of the Chinese Communist Party's erstwhile Voldemort, the Kuomintang.

Things haven't got better since that interview.

Photo by Flickr user youknowmynumber.

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