Integrity of territory has to be defended

WHEN President Abdurrahman Wahid took over the mantle of Indonesia’s top job, he lost little time in telling the world where his government would stand in defending national sovereignty.

“Even as we face fierce international competition during this difficult time, we will defend the integrity of our territory,” he said in his first speech as Indonesian leader, after taking the presidential oath.

“We have to defend the integrity of our territory when other countries make light of our feelings and honour,” the Indonesian leader insisted.

Analysts said such comments underscored his unhappiness over how Indonesia has been “mistreated” by the international community and Australia, in particular over the East Timor fiasco.

Indeed, he made these points more starkly in an interview with The Straits Times a month before clinching the presidency that “Australia and the world have no right to belittle us”.

“We are a nation of 200 million people,” he said. “They should give us the res pect we deserve.”

The President’s latest comments when he assumed office three weeks ago were not intended to address the view put forward by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Curiously, the Indonesian delegation at the UN General Assembly did not respond to Mr Annan’s statement.
But Mr Abdurrahman’s stand does encapsulate clearly the long-standing thinking in Indonesian foreign policy that intervention is anathema.

This view is informed mainly by the non-aligned movement’s ideology that is opposed to any interference in the internal affairs of another country.

The Indonesian government has shown several times in recent history that it is prepared to make sacrifices to uphold this cherished principle.

Most conspicuous was when Jakarta dumped the Dutch and their aid package after the Netherlands criticised the country’s human-rights record.

Political analyst Kusnanto Anggoro from the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that there are unlikely to be any changes in attitude.

“The government and military will remain largely conservative and opposed to any form of foreign intervention,” he said. This position shows how little Indonesia has been affected by the broader international debate on humanitarian intervention.

It could spell problems in the long run when the new UN agenda could come into conflict with the country’s skewed domestic orientation.

A version of this was manifested in their reaction to the events in East Timor.

Rather than accepting international consensus on the issue, the tendency was to deflect disappointment somewhat irrationally at Australia and the US.

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