President's visit to Fiji reflects Indonesia's drive in region
Description: The President of Indonesia to make a rare visit to a Pacific island country with confirmation he will attend next month's Pacific Islands Development Forum meeting in Fiji. An analyst looks at Jakarta's strategy of integrating with the Pacific region.
The Indonesian President will visit Fiji next month for the second annual Pacific Islands Development Forum meeting in Nadi.
The Fiji leader, Rear Admiral Frank Bainimarama, says Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit shows the relevance of the Development Forum in the region.
The visit is seen as another step to Jakarta's goal of greater integration in the Pacific region,
according to an expert in Indonesian history and politics, and Australia-Indonesia relations, Dr Richard Chauvel of Melbourne's Victoria University.
He spoke to Johnny Blades who began by asking about SBY's visit in proximity to current difficulties in Jakarta's relationship with Canberra.
RICHARD CHAUVEL: The combination of the spying with the issue asylum seeker boats... In a way the spying thing was a once-off crisis, whereas the boats issue and the new Australian government's policy of returning boats is clearly an ongoing irritant.
JOHNNY BLADES: So would you see SBY's visit as some sort of slight against Canberra given the fallout over those issues?
RC: I would only have thought at the margins at best. I think the Abbott government is probably much less concerned about the governance issues, the human rights issues, how Bainimarama came to power, sustains himself in power, rather than the previous Labour government. I can't recall any commentators making those links, seeing Indonesia-Fiji relations as much related to Australia's ongoing difficulties with Indonesia on one side and the bad odour with Fiji... I think it's in part because Australia's relationship with Indonesia is amongst our most critical and under current circumstances the most difficult, whereas Fiji is much more at the margins in terms of priority, importance and so on.
JB: Nonetheless, the Pacific regional architecture is changing and we know Fiji in particular is trying to change it away from the Pacific Islands Forum-centric framework so to speak.
RC: Yes, in Indonesia willing to be part of that, whether it's a way of understanding SBY's motivation in wanting to be associated... in the sense creating Indonesian involvement in the Pacific in a forum in which Australia is not present, whereas the Pacific Islands Forum is part of the regional architecture which Australia has exercised considerable influence whereas this one isn't.
JB: Do you see it as part of Indonesia's long term goal of integrating more in the Pacific?
RC: Yeah, I think in a way Indonesia views the Pacific through the West Papua prism, if you like. But clearly it has longer term strategic ambitions beyond its difficulties in West Papua.
JB: And what about that issue? Because obviously with the West Papuan bid to join the Melanesian Spearhead Group ramping up in the last year or so, Indonesia has also brought some representations to bear over that, hasn't it?
RC: Oh absolutely. The way the (MSG) Foreign Ministers visit (to West Papua) was hosted; you'll remember (PNG Prime Minister) O'Neill was in Jakarta when the MSG meeting was held. I think the cultivation and Indonesian lobbying in the Pacific - you can trace it back to 2000 if not before and the presence of people like (West Papuan) Franz Albert-Joku in Indonesian diplomatic delegations, and I imagine he'll go along to Fiji with SBY as well - I think is indicative of the importance that Indonesia places on developing relations with the South Pacific and in some cases directly combatting the lobbying efforts of various West Papuan groups. But I also think there is a broader strategic interest.
JB: And what does Indonesia offer the Pacific island countries?
RC: I think probably two things. One is money and resources. And the other is another channel entree into the outside world other than through Australia and New Zealand. If I recall correctly, Bainimarama's visit to Jakarta in April 2011 was in part to negotiate or at least discuss the possibility that Fiji might get observer status in ASEAN. But I think there are mutual interests there in Indonesia trying to assert more influence in the Pacific, and also countries like Fiji, who have their own difficulties in the Pacific with countries like Australia and New Zealand, trying to develop alternative relationships which in a sense bypass Australia and New Zealand.
JB: SBY is obviously the outgoing President of Indonesia, there's not much time left in his term. Does that dilute the importance of the visit at all?
RC: I think to some extent. But whether it's Joko Widodo or Prabowo who becomes President, I can't see any reason why a new administration would not broadly try and continue this initiative, the lobbying in the Pacific, trying to exert influence in the Pacific predates SBY, and I think this is one of the elements of continuity in Indonesian foreign policy and probably unlikely to change.
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