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'Dynamic equilibrium' in the Asia Pacific
Interview with Marty Natalegawa, Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Minister

The Asia Pacific is in strategic ferment. Nations throughout the region are looking on anxiously as the United States responds to China's military rise by reiterating its determination to remain a Pacific power.

As a down payment, for example, the United States will base troops in northern Australia. China's responded by trying to bolster defence ties in south-east Asia. Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has come up with what he calls dynamic equilibrium, a doctrine under which Washington and Beijing would agree to co-exist rather than compete for supremacy in the region.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Foreign minister, welcome to the program.

MARTY NATALEGAWA, INDONESIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you for having me on the program.

JIM MIDDLETON: First up, Indonesia's defence minister has been visiting China. He and his Chinese counterpart announced a defence industry partnership. Would that entail increased Indonesian purchases of Chinese military hardware, for example?

MARTY NATALEGAWA: Well that is not to be excluded, certainly. But the big picture is this: Indonesia, like Australia obviously, enjoys close bilateral sets of relations with many countries of the region, including collaboration on defence cooperation. And what is important is to recognise the fact that the developments of such bilateral defence relations ties does not have to be seen to be at the expense of any other countries. Rather, they are part and parcel of the developments and the dynamics of the region.

So developments such as Indonesia's and China's burgeoning defence ties: Indonesia-Australia, Indonesia-US, and other similar relations are quite a normal and quite a regular part of the region's development path.

JIM MIDDLETON: Does Jakarta share Beijing's concern about current US initiatives to boost its military presence in south-east Asia, for example, the announcement from Barack Obama and Julia Gillard late last year about basing American troops in northern Australia?

MARTY NATALEGAWA: No, it does not see necessarily these developments to be inimical to the region's peace and prosperity. It is, as I said before, inherently dynamic. There will be events and developments taking place all over our region: US with Australia, its own bilateral defence relationship, China-Indonesia just now.

But it's how we must all learn to absorb these developments and to recognise it as being natural developments that do not have to be seen to be against any one in particular.

So I think we must now develop in our region a 21st century type of outlook, rather than World War II, 1945-1950s-60s cold war outlook. And I believe we can develop those new dynamics for the region.

JIM MIDDLETON: Well what about this development then, the US Ambassador to Australia, Geoffrey Blake, is now offering American help, should Australia want to acquire nuclear submarines for its Navy. Is that a move that would disturb Indonesia if it went ahead?

MARTY NATALEGAWA: Well Australia and the United States have a alliance relationship. That is a fact of life and something that we respect and that we recognise.

Now, what is the operational consequence of that alliance relationship is one that obviously will be followed through and will be observed with some attention. Bt in terms of the geo political conditions in our region, both Australia and the United States have, for example, subscribed and supported the ASEAN's (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) concept of a zone for peace and freedom and neutrality as well as especially of Southeast Asia nuclear weapon-free zone for our region.

So I am sure that whatever collaborative, bilateral arrangements the two countries have entered into will be one that is consistent with its obligations to the countries of the region. Consistent with ASEAN's philosophy of treaty of amity and cooperation as well as the Bali Principles, which the East Asian Summit countries recently signed last November in Bali.

JIM MIDDLETON: Another subject, you've worked very hard to build up relations between Indonesia and Australia. How much of an irritant to Jakarta is the treatment in Australia of young Indonesians caught up in the people smuggling trade, many of them tricked into involvement, some of them not even adults who are detained in Australia without charge for up to six months?

MARTY NATALEGAWA: I must say, obviously, you are quite correct and thank you for raising it.

The Indonesian Government has been especially acutely concerned by the faith of minors, whenever a situation of this type arises. If the matter has been brought to the attention of the Australian Government at various level, I have talked with on this with Kevin, Minister Rudd, on a number of occasions and I know Prime Minister is aware of the issue because our president brought the matter up.

So the lot of attention and actually, to be honest, some progress. There have been cases where the Indonesian minors have been returned back to Indonesia, but we need to make this even more sustained, even more systematic. I have the responsibility here in Indonesia in ensuring, in preventing recurrence of this type, but where - this type of incidents, but where the situation arises then we must ensure the welfare of the child is properly protected.

But I am not - I do not have a reason to doubt the seriousness and the sincerity of the Australian Government to do the right thing. But we need to work even harder on this.

JIM MIDDLETON: when you say that both sides need to work harder, I wonder about this; given the failure of the Malaysia solution, is it time for Australia and Indonesia to sit down together and work out a deal where Australia, perhaps, returns the Indonesians in prison in Australia and takes more refugees, in exchange for Indonesia doing more to bring those actually running the people smuggling business to justice and perhaps improving working rights for asylum seekers in Indonesia?

MARTY NATALEGAWA: well, you have thought through the possibility there very, very deeply, Jim, it seems. But, you know, to be honest, we have the Bali Process that we have been working very closely with Australia, as you are aware, bringing in all the country of origin, transit, Indonesia namely and Australia as the destination. I am not, you know, I feel that the Bali Process continues to be a good system, a good modality for us to address the issue.

I am not seeing an Indonesian solution, if that is the right word for it just now, Jim, but certainly we are working at several level, Indonesia-Australia bilaterally, and then within the Bali Process as well.

Increasingly, though I must say that there is now even in Indonesia, and especially in Indonesia, there is a recognition that this is an issue that is not for Australia alone, but also for Indonesia is becoming a problem that we are, you know, really recognising that we need to address in a serious way.

JIM MIDDLETON: My final subject, Foreign Minister, you've met Julia Gillard and you know Kevin Rudd very well. How worried is Indonesia about the instability at the top in Australian politics, given the importance of relations between Indonesia and Australia?

MARTY NATALEGAWA: Well, when I described the state of the region just now, Jim, I used the word dynamics. I am sure in Australia's domestic context there are also dynamics that are being observed by many as well.

But the beauty of Indonesia-Australia relations is that it is all weather in terms of nature. So, however and whatever develops in Australia I am sure we the two country also continue to enjoy very close friendly and fraternal relations. That is the best I can do, I'm afraid, Jim.

JIM MIDDLETON: And has Mr Rudd ever told you that he would like to be Prime Minister again?

MARTY NATALEGAWA: I am not sure about that Jim (laughs).

JIM MIDDLETON: Foreign minister, thank you very much for your time.

MARTY NATALEGAWA: Thank you very much, Jim, for having me on the program.
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