Indonesia is in Relationship, with Its Neighbors

It is a big country in a multi-relationship. Literally, Indonesia’s geographical length is approximately twice the distance between London to Moscow. Thus it shares border with many countries. Here is Indonesia’s current relationships and potentials with the neighbors

Posted On 03 Nov 2015
By : Jennifer Sidharta

Current Relationships

Let’s start the review with the relationship between Indonesia and Singapore, which has recently signed three memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation in electronic government, youth and sports development, as well as strategic economic cooperation.

Despite some strain caused by cases such as the annual haze, Indonesia ranks Singapore as its fourth largest trading partner in 2014, with around S$72.4 billion trade. Consequently, Singapore is among the top five investors for Indonesia since 2001, with US $5.8 billion investments in 2014. In the same year, three million Indonesian visits Singapore, while many residents of Singapore are also visiting Indonesia.

A Love-Hate relationship would also illustrates Indonesia-Malaysia’s. The political ties are relatively stable, but for some curious reasons there is some kind of sentiments or sense of competition whenever Indonesians heard about Malaysian related topic.

Some of the most memorable conflict might be the Sipadan-Ligitan territorial dispute, the ‘fight’ over the rights of some cultural heritage, and the soccer match during the 2011 Sea Games.

Economically, the ‘siblings’ are each other strategic and natural partner. Recently, Indonesia and Malaysia reach an agreement to intensify economic cooperation, especially because the two countries target US $30 billion for their 2015 bilateral trade. Foreign ministers of both countries also aim to intensify cooperation in palm oil industry and Indonesian migrant workers sectir, as 2.4 million Indonesian is estimated to work in Malaysia.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane Veloso of the Bali Nine case was a hot issue for both Indonesia and the Philippines. In early 2015, Indonesia declares state of emergency regarding drugs, and its law declares that drugs related crime is punishable by death.

Negotiation between both countries, involving mass movement, happened and it turned out Mary Jane is a victim of human trafficking, and thus she escapes the death penalty.

Aside of that case, in general Indonesia-Philippines share peaceful relations, especially since both countries also share many similarities, such as the struggle against corruption and being named as “new tigers”; rising economies predicted to grow rapidly.

The two archipelagic countries also reached an agreement to strengthen cooperation concerning information exchange and intensifying efforts to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF) in their territorial fishing grounds and waters.

Indonesia-Australia, on the other hand, share a more dynamic, up-and-down relationship. The previously mentioned Bali Nine case also involved two Australians, but unlike Mary Jane they were convicted and sentenced to death. The case received lots of attention as Australia went as far as recalling its ambassadors; though eventually he returned.

Another conflict arose after the controversial Aussie’s border protection policy. Australia’s Prime Minister at that time, Tony Abbott, was reportedly accused of “bribing” Indonesian boats filled with asylum seekers to return; despite the immigrants are actually from other countries, where they might be persecuted. On the other side, human right groups are also criticizing the policy, saying Australia fails to meet its international obligations and violates international law.

Despite everything, the relations between Indonesia and Australia countries, though tense at times, have remained intact. Both countries are strengthening cooperation against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUUF); as well as engaging at operational level and promoting sustainable fisheries governance.

And economically, Indonesia is Australia’s largest wheat and live cattle export market, not to mention lots of Indonesian university students in Australia. On the other side, Indonesia’s main export to Australia is tourism, especially in Bali.

Meanwhile, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are cooperating to develop the national gas and oil sector in Eastern Indonesia. The two countries are separated by land border, and it is not unusual for the people living near the border to cross it daily. They use both Indonesia’s Rupiah and Papua New Guinea’s Kina for trade there. However, sometimes tension arises because of territorial dispute concerning the border.

Also in very close geographical and cultural proximity are Indonesia-Brunei Darussalam. Both countries collaborate in workforce, defense and education sector. Around 70 thousand Indonesians work in Brunei, while Brunei exports oil and gas to Indonesia. The two countries are looking forward to the implementation of ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which will merge the 10 member countries’ market and production bases, to enhance their investment and trade.

Indonesia and East Timor share somewhat complicated relations. The latter was colonized by the Portuguese whereas Indonesia was previously occupied by the Netherlands. Later on, when East Timor finally gain independence, it joined Indonesia.

Unfortunately, Indonesia had a dark period under the dictatorship of Soeharto, the so-called New Order, when military power could be used on civilians who dared to defy the ‘president’. Lots of people suffered and died, including those in East Timor.

Eventually East Timor fought for yet another independence, this time was against Indonesia, as some history books would say. On the flipside, Indonesia’s history recorded East Timor’s separation as their own will, and some says the people chose to be an independent country because they were told that they had abundant natural resource, which turned out to be naught; that they were deceived by another side who then used East Timor as their military base.

However, the truth remains unclear, but new relationship has been formed, as equally independent countries. Defense agreements and fisheries and economic related treaty are among others. Trade and investment are also ongoing, as currently there are 400 Indonesian private companies operating in East Timor; and five thousand East Timor students are studying in Indonesia.

The Potentials

By 2016, Indonesia-Singapore investment guarantee agreement (IGA) is expiring. Jakarta intends to renegotiate a new treaty, as it intends to do with its IGA with Malaysia, which has expired in June 2015.

Meanwhile, Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership (IA-CEPA) is also being negotiated. The free trade agreement, if realized, may boost trades that may be worth billions for both countries.

Indonesia and its neighbors also have collective cooperation, such as within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). One of the upcoming agenda is ASEAN Economic Community which will be realized by the end of 2015. The free trade area agreement may further boost ASEAN position in world economy.

As Karen Brooks of Foreign Affairs wrote, “The ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) represent a collective market of 620 million people, significantly larger than that of North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, the eurozone, or the Middle East and North Africa. They are home to a young, large, and growing labor pool, as well as a growing and increasingly consumption-oriented middle class. The ASEAN countries posted a combined GDP of over $2.2 trillion in 2012 — larger than Russia’s GDP and almost the same size as Brazil’s — and many economists expect that number to double by 2020.”

About Jennifer Sidharta
Tangerang-based journalism student specializing in written content. Manage a personal blog: Has published a digital short novel about stereotype titled “Ingatkah Engkau.”