Jakarta – Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has rightly reminded Australia to be clear and open with Indonesia about its activities as part of the AUKUS trilateral security pact, which involves the United States and United Kingdom. But Indonesia, too, must be more mature in dealing with Australia, as oversensitivity has harmed the neighbors' friendship in the past.
At the eighth annual 2+2 foreign and defense ministers' meeting in Canberra last week, Retno, accompanied by Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, stressed to their counterparts Penny Wong and Richard Marles "the importance of AUKUS transparency and the commitment [to stopping] nuclear proliferation, as well as adherence to the safeguards of the [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty] and the [International Atomic Energy Agency]".
Overall, the defense and military cooperation between the two strategic partners has been steadily on the rise, as they realize they need each other.
In their joint statement, Indonesia and Australia vowed to deepen defense engagement even further, including by working together in the fields of military medicine, military technology and the defense industry, while exploring ways to facilitate cooperation between their two militaries. The ministers also reiterated their commitment to transparency over strategic and defense policies.
The issue of transparency does matter. In September 2021, Indonesia filed a diplomatic protest against Australia for belated information on its entry into the AUKUS pact, which includes plans for the country to procure nuclear-powered submarines. China strongly protested the security pact.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and then-Australian prime minister Scott Morrison settled the problem, and warm and close relations between the two countries have been well maintained under Morrison's successor Anthony Albanese.
On AUKUS, as well as the Quad security arrangement involving the US, Japan, India and Australia, Jokowi has expressed few reservations, perhaps because such pacts could counterbalance the growing influence of China in the Indo-Pacific.
There have been ups and downs in the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia. In 2013, then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recalled Indonesia's ambassador to Australia after it was found that Australia's counterintelligence agencies had wiretapped top Indonesian officials, including Yudhoyono and his wife.
In 2017, Indonesia temporarily suspended military cooperation with Australia, including joint training, education, exchanges of officers and visits, after Indonesian soldiers found "materials" considered offensive to state ideology Pancasila and the Indonesian Military (TNI) at an Australian military base.
Reflecting on the two incidents, Indonesia needs to show maturity in dealing with Australia and be a good neighbor for the sake of both countries.
The 27-point joint statement issued after the ministerial meeting in Canberra last week was undeniable evidence that bilateral cooperation between the two countries and mutual trust between the two governments has been well preserved.
In a separate joint ministerial statement of intent on upgrading the 2021 defense cooperation arrangement, Prabowo and Marles confirmed their intention to "elevate this to an agreement that is binding under international law". They said the new agreement would "bolster our strong defense cooperation by supporting increased dialogue, strengthening interoperability and enhancing practical arrangements".
At the 2+2 meeting in 2021, the countries had agreed to boost their bilateral cooperation on defense, counterterrorism and cybersecurity. This was an upgrade of the existing cooperation arrangement.
There was no explanation of exactly what "binding under international law" meant, but it may be supposed that the two countries are seeking to establish treaties requiring approval from the legislatures of both countries. As the Indonesian political world is setting its sights on the Feb. 14, 2024, elections, it is unlikely that the House of Representatives will review, let alone ratify, any incoming bilateral cooperation pact.
Indonesia and Australia are middle powers, and a significant increase in their military and defense cooperation would impact on the Indo-Pacific. Australia in particular pays more attention to the presence of China in the Pacific Islands countries.
Amid the great power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific, close cooperation between key players like Indonesia and Australia will help maintain the region's peace and stability.