TNI turns to Asian nations to better ties


After a fallout with Australia over East Timor, the defence force is examining ways to expand links with its Asian allies. China is high on its list.

THE Indonesian defence force (TNI) is looking at ways to expand defence links with its Asian neighbours, including China, following the souring of ties with Australia – once one of its closest military co-operation partners.

Castigating Canberra in the East Timor imbroglio for carrying out covert operations to support independence for the territory, intelligence officials said defence planners were now examining what the TNI could do to step up technology transfer, military exercises, and training programmes with its Asian allies.

“The military was fixated with Australia,” said a senior intelligence officer.

“We went to them for everything right up to signing a security pact. But their recent actions in East Timor show a hypocrisy of the white men in Australia.

“In the end, they think they hold the higher moral ground on East Timor, not knowing that they were one of the countries that encouraged us to intervene in 1975. All the senior officers feel betrayed.”

This was reflected a week ago when Jakarta cancelled a 1995 military agreement with Canberra – which had earlier suspended defence ties with Jakarta.

But ties were already strained in the month before the East Timor bloodbath. The Indonesians alleged that there was a concerted effort by Australia to aid the independence militia and to rig the election results.

A military source in Dili said the local command there recorded seven instances of “black slights” in which Australian planes allegedly made forays into East Timor to drop off arms for the independence fighters.

Canberra, on the other hand, said Jakarta was arming the pro-integration militia and that the “blessing” for this came from the TNI elite.

Given such latent tension and the abolition of the security agreement, military officials said there was an “urgent review” of the TNI’s relations with others. High on the list was China.

Senior Indonesian military officers and staff from the National Defence Institute, a government think-tank, visited China last week to meet their counterparts.

Sources said Jakarta was showing interest in high-tech military buys from Beijing.

Said a two-star general: “Our problems with Australia have suddenly opened our eyes to what is available in the market. The Chinese manufacture military products which we can buy at a cheap price, very much lower than what Australia or America has to offer.”

No details were available on what Jakarta wants from Beijing. But political observers believe the recent visit was aimed more at “sending a signal” to Australia and other western nations that strategic alignments in the Asia-Pacific could change if “countries tried to play hardball with Indonesia”.

Given Jakarta’s prevailing suspicion of China, especially its presence in the South China Sea, bilateral ties would take time to develop.

More plausible was fostering even stronger links with individual Asean countries where close ties already exist. Jakarta’s generals now see the Singapore Armed Forces as a model for the TNI’s own modernisation.

Said the intelligence official: “Singapore is the best in the region. It has the most professional military and one which is very well-versed with technology of the highest levels.

“The sentiment now is that we can dump the Australians and turn to countries like Singapore for advice on how to develop the TNI.”

Hypocrisy of the white men

‘We went to them for everything … But their recent actions in East Timor show a hypocrisy of the white men in Australia.’
– Senior Indonesian intelligence officer

Betrayal by an ally

‘They were one of the countries that encouraged us to intervene in 1975. All the senior officers feel betrayed.’
– Senior Indonesian intelligence officer

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