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Why Australia and Indonesia Don't Get Along (Bali)


Ever since it was revealed in late Protected content Australia’s spy agency had tapped the handphone of Kristiani Herawati, the wife of then President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, relations between Indonesia and Australia have been strained, to put it mildly.

Now, with the imminent executions of two Australians for their key role in smuggling a large quantity of heroin into Bali some ten years ago, relations have come to a full on crisis largely fueled by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s threats of “repercussions” should now President Jokowi refuse to order a pardon, or a stay of those executions.

“Indonesia needs to know that we in Australia do not support the death penalty” he was quoted as saying to a reporter yesterday. Clearly implied in that bold statement was the message, “since we don’t believe in the death penalty, you shouldn’t either.”

But even more insulting to the Indonesian people was Abbott’s suggestion that if we did not pardon these two criminals that we pay back to Australia the aid they rendered to us following the great tsunami in Aceh. That suggestion was received by Indonesians in a most remarkable, yet purely Indonesian manner…the now famous, Koin Untuk Australia (coins for Australia) campaign.

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More recently Abbott has claimed that the two Australians now scheduled for execution have been “rehabilitated” and should be regarded by Indonesia as assets in their war against drugs.

The idea of Andrew Chan as Indonesia’s new “poster boy” for its war on drugs is of course in direct contrast to this recently released article about Chan:

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Given my many long years of living in Indonesia and the assumption that I am objective and without any bias or preference, I was recently asked by a high level Indonesian government official to sum up my thoughts about Australia and its diplomatic approach with Indonesia. To that I quipped, “unbridled arrogance and their unwavering belief that we are stupid.” Adding a bit more, I went on, “Australia treats us like we are their errant children, and that somehow we need their guidance and approval.”

I find those very same sentiments to be shared by virtually every Indonesian I know. And, so long as those are the predominant sentiments about Australia among Indonesians, we will not have anything close to a good relationship.