Nick D – On 9 February 2023, Defence Minister Richard Marles and Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong, met their Indonesian counterparts – Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi – in Canberra.
According to an Australian Government Defence press release, the aim of the meeting was to "...discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of shared strategic interest, and identify opportunities for deeper cooperation under the Australia-Indonesia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership."
The ABC reported that much discussion revolved around AUKUS – a military alliance between Australia, the UK and US. This alliance is part of the imperialist bloc's escalating hostility towards China and includes the development of nuclear-propelled submarines worth well over $150 billion.
Since AUKUS was announced in 2021, the Indonesian government have expressed concerns about the lack of consultation, as well as dangers of nuclear proliferation and increased potential for armed conflict in the region.
Based on the Joint Statement released after the February meeting however, any fallout from AUKUS will not impact Australia's close military cooperation with Indonesia – particularly the provision of training, equipment and weapons.
Rubbing shoulders with Prabowo
Perhaps most striking about the meeting was the complete comfort that Marles, Wong and Anthony Albanese – who must have also popped in for a photo opportunity – had in meeting a figure like Prabowo Subianto.
Indeed, Marles proudly tweeted a photo of the four participants (plus Albanese) with the caption, "Foreign Minister @SenatorWong and I were delighted to welcome our Indonesian counterparts; Defence Minister @prabowo and Foreign Minister @Menlu_RI to Canberra for our 2+2 meeting today." Albanese also followed suit with his own tweet.
Just some of the accusations against Prabowo include: involvement in the September 1983 Kraras massacre in Timor Leste – wherein 300 civilians were murdered; leading a brutal campaign in 1996 against villagers in the Papuan highlands; and kidnapping and torturing pro-democracy activists in the late 1990s.
Given that none of these issues were raised by anyone from the Australian government speaks volumes about their supposed concern for human rights. Moreover, they lack of even the slightest hint of discomfort in rubbing shoulders with somebody who fought tooth and nail to preserve Suharto's US and Australian-backed military dictatorship that came to power in one of the greatest massacres of the 20th century. This clearly shows these ALP leaders' willingness to support the Indonesian capitalist ruling class against Indonesian workers, peasants and the urban poor.
Imperialist foreign policy
The attitude and actions of Marles and Co. is not particularly surprising given the Australian government's historical support for right-wing, anti-democratic forces in Asia and the Pacific.
Until today, Australian diplomacy and foreign policy has always been motivated by the need to stabilise the imperialist system and ensure that Australia's privileged position in the world economy is not challenged. If this means photo-ops with odious war criminals like Prabowo Subianto, then so be it.
However, if a progressive, left-wing force emerges in the region – particularly one that openly challenges Australia's extraction of imperialist super-profits – then the attitude in Canberra will not be so cordial. In such a situation, we could expect the usual playbook – demonisation, coups, trade wars, embargoes, sanctions and even invasion – as well as active coordination with reactionaries like Prabowo.
Yet every day, the objective conditions and contradictions of imperialism – such as war, regular and intense economic crises, as well as the daily deprivations imposed on the popular classes – are increasing the likelihood of organised revolt in Global South countries. It is therefore the responsibility of progressive forces today to begin building a strong, anti-imperialist left in Australia.
If this crucial work is not done, there is every chance the Australian government and its allies could play a decisive role in strangling the next revolution in its cradle.