SBY and the paradox of internationalism

SBY and the paradox of internationalism
, 13 October 2010


President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s canceled visit to the Netherlands came as a surprise for many people since the decision was made just a few minutes with his plane waiting on the runway.

Yudhoyono said the reason for the postponed trip was a matter of national dignity in response to a lawsuit filed against him in a Dutch court coinciding with his arrival by a group claiming to represent the Republic of South Maluku (RMS). Despite guarantees from Dutch authorities he would enjoy immunity as a head of state, he regarded the court hearing as unethical saying it violated ethics and norms of a bilateral relationship.

Anyone and experts knowledgeable about Yudhoyono will consider his decision shocking. Yudhoyono is noted for his foreign-policy, outward-look and internationalism. What he is exhibiting at the moment represents how his sense of internationalism is in paradox. Some reasons confirm this thesis.

First, Yudhoyono’s leadership no longer reflects self-confidence. On many occasions during his meetings with international leaders, Yudhoyono did not do very much focus on the need for the international support for Indonesia’s territorial integrity. He demurred at being dubbed a complainer without self-confidence. To Yudhoyono, Indonesia is not a banana republic.

Moreover, most countries do not support the separatist movement in any part of Indonesia. As an example, in the Indonesia-Australia joint statement issued in 2006 in Batam, it was expressly stated that Australia would not allow itself to be used as a support base for Indonesian separatist movements, referring in this case to Papua. Harping on about the old issue of territorial integrity demanded by the RMS, therefore, is actually irrelevant.

Therefore, it was needless of President Yudhoyono to fear the lawsuit. While he sees the decision as an act to uphold dignity, the international community sees this act as foolishness and immaturity.

Second, Yudhoyono is likely to disregard his “zero enemies, million friends” approach for Indonesia at the international level. The President has been successful in forging strategic partnerships with a variety of major nations and groupings such as Australia, Japan, China, the UK, Russia, South Korea, India, and the EU. After the end of the Cold War, there are now no countries that see Indonesia as an enemy or are seen as an enemy by Indonesia.

Yudhoyono’s delayed state visit runs contrary to Indonesia’s foreign policy goal. Not only does it increase RMS’s media exposure, but also provides pressure groups with a potential tool to sabotage any bilateral relations with Indonesia.

Regardless of the fact that the Dutch court finally denied a request by the RMS to have Yudhoyono arrested on alleged human rights violations in Indonesia while in the Netherlands, will Yudhoyono stay in Indonesia every time some group files a lawsuit in the country the president wants to visit? This is really a bad precedent.

For the future, the concept of “zero enemies, a million friends” will have become a natural part of the outlook of the next generation of Indonesian leaders. It will be easier for the younger generation to accept the new reality as the young people tend to be more open minded and are not weighed down by the baggage of history.

Third, the delayed state visit might tarnish our image as a moderate nation in the diplomatic realm. Yudhoyono is conversant with complex foreign-affair issues.

He can speak at length, for instance, without prepared text about various foreign issues ­— ASEAN, Myanmar, Lebanon, the Iran nuclear standoff, Kosovo, the Indonesia-Timor Leste Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the East Asia high level conference, climate change, Islamic relations with the West, and so forth.

However, his decision to delay the trip will give an impression his “nationalism and internationalism” policies are contradictory. To the worst degree, there is fear that the international community will view Yudhoyono as following the footsteps of leaders with very hard-line reputations such as Fidel Castro, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez. This means Yudhoyono is about to betray his own character on one side and steer the country’s foreign policy in a radical and confrontational direction on the other.

Fourth, the delayed state visit is believed to cripple Indonesia’s bargaining power, especially before the Dutch government.

In fact, relations between Indonesia and its former colonial master had significantly improved with The Hague’s recognition in 2005 of Indonesia’s independence as falling on Aug. 17, 1945, instead of in December 1949, as the Netherlands had claimed.

Additionally, the recognition and testimony had been found in various Dutch-Indonesia comprehensive partnership documents.

With Yudhoyono postponing his visit to the Netherlands, there will be much opportunity for a mixture of local politicians and separatist movements, like the RMS, lobbying the Dutch government to acknowledge their rights of self-determination.

Wim Sopacua, vice president of the RMS government in exile, often reminded his followers that the independence they long for is not without historical precedence. The Kosovo independence has been a mesmerizing specter for any countries facing heaps of separatist movements.

The writer is a lecturer at Andalas University, Padang and a graduate of the University of Canberra, Australia.