Te Karere Ipurangi
Fiji Coup Supplement

May 31, 2000 - 11.00pm
FIJI - Indonesia warns Australia


Indonesia considers Australia as a big danger to its national integrity because some of its elements have tried to provoke disturbances in the easternmost province of Irian Jaya or Papua, said Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab. In comments ahead of a planned trip by President Abdurrahman Wahid to Australia, the minister accused several Australian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of being involved in inciting violence in the troubled province, the Indonesian Observer reported yesterday.

Since the ballot in East Timor there has been a war of words between Australia and Indonesia, with Indonesia accusing Australia of conducting spy flights, and other unfriendly activity. The Indonesians also caught an Australian sergeant attached to the UN in East Timor, trying to organise an intelligence gathering network in Indonesian Timor. The Malyasians have also accused Australia of bully-boy tactics in the region.

However, the above reference to Australia as a direct threat to the integrity of the Indonesian nation is extraordinarily and unusually blunt. The statement was made by the foreign minister, indicating that it was no mere off-the-cuff comment, but deliberately intended to convey a message, or messages. It should therefore be treated with the utmost seriousness.

The Indonesians have a proverb, "Ada udang dibelakan batu" - there is a prawn behind the rock, or there's more to this than meets the eye. It is a feature of Indonesian cultures, and Pacific cultures, that messages are quite often conveyed in an oblique manner, so that one needs to look behind the obvious, and to seek layers of meaning beneath the words.

So what are the messages beneath this statement by Alwi Shihab?

The statement itself is aimed directly at Australian NGOs, rather than at the Australian Government. Nevertheless it is intended as a direct message to the Government.

The first part of the message is easily understood. Stop meddling in Indonesian affairs (or else). The second is to do with President Wahid's coming visit to Australia, and is a warning that Wahid will not tolerate any Australian arrogance or threats, and might be designed to put Australia on the back foot for that visit. There is in it also a reinforcement of a clear message already given to Australia by Indonesia and Malaysia about its bully-boy diplomacy in the region.

What of the timing though, for in Indonesian diplomacy, timing is a delicate calculation. It is of course timed before President Wahid's visit to Australia but that is not due until late July. It could well have been delivered closer to the visit if that were its sole purpose. So why now?

I think that it is no coincidence that this warning has been delievered to Australia in the middle of the Fiji crisis, after almost two weeks of arrogant bully-boy abuse against Fiji. The timing is impeccable. There is a clear message in there for New Zealand as well about meddling in other's affairs.


Just a day or so later the South Pacific Forum has urged the international community to be cautious about imposing sanctions on Fiji. In a press statement, the general secretary of the Forum, Noel Levi, says those who would be affected most under the sanctions were not responsible for the current situation.

For "international community" read Australia and New Zealand.

He said that while the strong punitive action against Fiji was understandable, it would affect those sectors of the community which were least able to look after themselves, and also that some of the sanctions could affect poverty-eradication and alleviation programmes already in place. Australia and New Zealand, both members of the South Pacific Forum, have been the two countries making the loudest threats about sanctions.

Levi asked the international community to look at the declaration of martial law as a transitory phase aimed at preserving law and order and setting the stage for the return of normalcy.

This diplomatic statement too, from the body representing the nations of the Pacific, was a message to the two biggest offenders against the cultural sensibilities of the Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand. It was a clear and direct message from their fellow members in the Forum, and it was not a message of support for Australian and New Zealand behaviour these last two weeks, that's for sure.

The South Pacific Forum Secretariat, based in Suva, Fiji is the administrative arm of the South Pacific Forum which comprises independent and self-governing states in the Pacific. Member states are Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.


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