The Interpreter - Weblog of the Lowy Institute for International Policy

The Interpreter - Recent Posts (for you. Click here to start your FREE subscription)

The Interpreter - 5 new articles

Weekend catch-up: Papua, Waterloo and the Cold War, Japan-South Korea, risk assessment and more

by Brendan Thomas-Noone

This week, The Interpreter concluded former Fairfax Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard's seven-part series on the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. Here is the introductionpart 1 and part 2 from last week. Below are extracts from the rest of this outstanding series. First, on Papua's 'education malaise':

The problem is not just with the administrators. Ob Anggen is funded not by government but by fees and donations, and the school is fighting an uphill battle against some parents, and the culturally important uncles, who can't understand why children need to spend so much time in classrooms to attain certificates which, at other schools, can simply be bought or cheated.

In part 4, Michael concentrated on health care in the provinces:

Poor education in Papua means there are few locally trained doctors. But not many from outside Papua want to stay in these hard postings with their thorny health problems. 

One young physician arrived for his two-year stint in a taxi via the bumpy road from Wamena. He got out and looked around, then climbed back into the same taxi, returned to town and was never seen again.

Dr Poby, by contrast, finds the work satisfying. On the desk in the consulting room are testing kits for patients diagnosed that day with tuberculosis which, along with HIV/AIDS, is in epidemic proportions here. In the eleven months to November 2014, he diagnosed 26 new cases of HIV and three of AIDS.

Michael interviewed several journalists in Papua and West Papua:

Oktavianus Pogau is another journalist, the chief editor of newspaper Suara Papua. After the presidential election last year, he tried to draw attention to the massive irregularities and ballot box stuffing that delivered counts in some places of 100% for Joko Widodo. In most Papuan districts, there was no ballot box at all, but every man and woman miraculously managed to vote. He accuses politicised electoral commission officials, not Joko's party, of wrongdoing.

In the remote village of Lolat the fact that a ballot box never appeared for the election makes people feel they have no stake in the outcome. Asked about the promises of Joko Widodo, a young woman in Lolat says: 'We didn't actually elect him so why should he listen to what we say?'

The reasons why Papuans want independence are often misunderstood in the West, as Michael discovered:

The men in this darkened room know that their cause is supported by many Western activists, as well as a broader Papuan diaspora. But Balingga is frustrated that these people too often focus on human rights issues to drive their cause. 'The main picture that gets out internationally is that people get killed and that is why we should have freedom. But that is not the true reason in our hearts,' Balingga insists. 'It's much bigger than just killing people. We want our own country because we're different.'

In the conclusion to the series, Bachelard examined Papua's relationship with the central government in Jakarta, what has happened since the election of Jokowi and what local activists believe needs to be done:

In his conversations with Jokowi's ministers, Harsono had three suggestions to make to improve the situation in Papua. Firstly, open it up to international monitors, including the Western media; secondly, release the political prisoners; and thirdly, throw some kind of bone to the military — perhaps a grace period to wind up their financial affairs and improve their performance.

Stephen Grenville wrote on investor-state dispute settlement and the TPP:

Where is the Government's substantive response? What is the case, in the Australian context, for giving foreigners more favoured treatment than domestic players? Negotiating tactics should not be an excuse for lack of transparency here: an open debate is just part of good governance. The Government should make the case why ISDS benefits Australia. ISDS is not something to be bargained away in exchange for some (probably ephemeral) export advantage.

The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo was last week. Matthew Dal Santo makes a connection between the peace that was achieved afterward and the end of the Cold War in 1991:

The restoration of a European balance after Waterloo was a testament not just to Waterloo or Britain's wealth and geographic invulnerability, but to Castlereagh's vision as a statesman and his skill as a diplomat. The problem in 1991 was that America combined in itself the role of both victors in 1815: that of the offshore balancer (Britain) and that of the dominant military power on the continent (Russia). Castlereagh's vision for peace was available, but the US effectively chose Alexander's.

In another anniversary, it was the 50th year since Japan and South Korea established formal relations. Robert Kelly took the opportunity to argue that now is the time for Shinzo Abe to end the region's history wars:

Usually these sorts of articles end with arguments that both Japan and Korea need to compromise in order to get along and deal with the really serious issues of their neighborhood – North Korea, China, etc. And so they should. In my previous writings on this topic, I have often suggested that Koreans might take steps to ease the tension, such as dropping the needlessly provocative Sea of Japan re-naming campaign that only stiffens Japan's spine rather than encouraging reconciliation.

But it must be said that Abe has veered so widely from accepted fact on Japanese 20th century imperialism that he must now make the first move, not just to the Koreans but to much of the Asia Pacific, including the Americans. 

In an excellent piece, former intelligence analyst David Wells talks risk assessment in counter-terrorism:

We want our intelligence agencies to be risk averse, given the potential consequences of things going wrong. My concern is that the (justified) scrutiny of the Monis case, the desire to apportion blame and political commentary in the aftermath of the attack, could push the intelligence agencies towards risk avoidance. In future, will intelligence agencies make a similar assessment based on similar information as they did with the Monis case? How comfortable will they feel ruling out an individual as an ongoing target? 

The consequences of increased risk aversion are easy to imagine. Intelligence agency target lists will grow and resources will be stretched. Perversely, risk aversion could thus increase the chances of an attack. In practical terms, the coverage needed to 100% prevent these types of attacks is incredibly resource intensive. Monitoring every individual posing a possible threat is simply not feasible nor desirable.

What are the possible outcomes from the dissolution of the opposition alliance in Malaysia? Anneliese Mcauliffe:

But another real possibility is the further fracturing of the opposition, plunging Malaysia into a political realm in which nationalists and religious hardliners unite in one opposition alliance while political moderates form a separate opposition group. Not only would it be far less likely that either of these groups could pose a real threat to the ruling coalition, such political organisation around ethnic and religious lines could pose serious problems for the future of social cohesion and inclusive political life of Malaysia

Responding to a recent debate on The Strategist, Raoul Heinrichs says that by preserving Australia's strategic independence we can protect ourselves from alliance failure:

In practice, that means building powerful, genuinely self-reliant military forces. To achieve their purpose, these would need to be optimised strictly for the limited task of defending Australia – not the regional order; not Japan, Taiwan or Korea; and not the countries contesting Chinese claims in the South China Sea. It would mean prioritising independent operational capability over interoperability (when the two goals conflict), and air and maritime forces over land power. It would also mean taking full advantage of Australia's fortuitous strategic geography, using asymmetric military technologies and doctrines in ways that impose intolerable costs and risks on an adversary seeking to surmount it.

Why does Southeast Asia have a strange obsession with Hitler and Nazi iconography?  Elliot Brennan argues it's a lack of awareness of European history among the region's youth:

The love affair with Nazi imagery seems to be gathering strength among Southeast Asia's youth. Outside the region, this will feed comparisons between, say, Nazi Germany and Myanmar's persecution of the Rohingya. Some commentators argue that this stubborn love affair has taken on new significance under Thailand's repressive military-led government. Since seizing power last year, the junta has used all means to win over Thai youth and when it has failed it has detained activists for what it has termed 'attitude adjustment'.

Visiting scholar to the Lowy Institute Ye Yu wrote on the New Development Bank:

Within China, the NDB is seen as one package with the AIIB, and both banks are still at the preparatory stage. The Shanghai municipal government has given strong support to the NDB as the first international organisation headquartered in Shanghai and the first international financial organisation headquartered in China. The NDB is expected to help strengthen efforts to build up Shanghai as an international financial centre. What the Chinese and Shanghainese governments should provide is more entrepreneurship and intellectual leadership in defining the mandate of the bank. The fact that all the BRICS countries are now founding members of the AIIB could also help the NDB develop a consistent and complementary relationship with that organisation.

Finally, Leon Berkelmans with five points on the Greek debt crisis. Here's one:

If the ECB does cut off Greek banks, and the banks are headed towards bankruptcy, this is the point at which Grexit becomes more likely. If Greece leaves the euro, the Greek central bank can lend money to the banks unencumbered by the ECB's permission. But Grexit will be messy. I have no idea what it would look like. I don't think anybody does.

(Photo: Michael Bachelard/November 2014)


Quick comment: Lord Michael Williams on China in Southeast Asia

by Sam Roggeveen

Lord Michael Williams is the Lowy Institute's guest today as part of the Australia-UK Asia Dialogue. He is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Chatham House and a former senior British diplomat with vast experience in Asia.

We talked this morning about China's land reclamation and its ultimate intentions in the South China Sea, and about whether Beijing is really in control of all this activity (that got an emphatic 'yes' from Lord Williams). At the end of the interview we shifted to Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi's little noticed recent visit to Beijing. 'This visit is one of the most important things that's happened in the region in 2015' says Lord Williams matter-of-factly.


Who are you calling radical, radical?

by Lauren Williams

Fear of ISIS, faltering economies and resentment over rising immigration from war-torn Iraq and Syria has resulted in a surge in right-wing populism in Europe and the UK. 

Here in the UK, following the departure of three sisters with their nine children to join ISIS, and the emergence of the first British suicide bomber in Iraq, newly re-elected conservative Prime Minister David Cameron stirred controversy when, in an address to a security conference in Slovakia and coinciding with the beginning of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan, said that parts of the Muslim community are 'quietly condoning' ISIS ideology.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen. (Flickr/Ernest Morales.)

Echoing the wording of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Cameron issued a message to Muslim families and leaders that they must do more to combat the lure of ISIS ideology among young people. 'The cause is ideological. It is an Islamist extremist ideology, one that says the West is bad, that democracy is wrong, that women are inferior, that homosexuality is evil, ' he told the conference.

In Australia, debate continues over controversial moves to suspend the citizenship of those involved in terror, however broadly that may be defined. Abbott has consistently called on Muslim leaders to do more to counter extremism and called on Muslims to get on board with Australian values. In February, Abbott outraged Muslim leaders when he told journalists: 'I've often heard western leaders describe Islam as a "religion of peace". I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.'

France, with Western Europe's largest Muslim population of around 7 million, is still reeling from the attack in January by radical Islamists against the satirical cartoon Charlie Hebdo. Marine Le Pen's far right National Front is making gains campaigning on a platform emphasising the threat Islam poses to French secular nationhood.

When times get tough, it's not surprising that we blame 'the other'. But as more radical right wing parties with an anti-immigration and anti-multicultural agendas gain momentum in Europe and the West, so do dangerous levels of Islamaphobia. It's no coincidence that alongside this increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric we have seen a surge in the number of radical Islam-inspired terror attacks and plots in the West. Minority Islamic populations in Europe, already feeling marginalised and economically and socially disadvantaged, will feel increasingly alienated, leading to greater levels of anger and more polarised communities.

Research on radicalisation has shown that those who choose to join the fight in Syria and Iraq present a varied profile. Some are highly religiously and ideologically driven, others have a violent predisposition or criminal history, but by far the most easily identifiable signal is a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement with their current environment and a lack of a sense of belonging. 

If we really want to stop the radicalisation of young Muslim men and women, we need to stop goading them.

ISIS recruiters thrive on the vulnerabilities created by divisive rhetoric coming from the far right. The narrative pushed by ISIS recruiters is of a functioning alternative state that welcomes those feeling alienated and unwelcome in their Western homes. By reinforcing a perception of 'Islam versus the West', right-wing politicians create exactly the right conditions for the appeal of reactionary and violent rejectionist groups to grow. We are playing right into their hands. 

In countless interviews with Muslims in Australia, France and the UK, I have heard the same dismay over the perception of negative stereotyping and demonisation, fueled by a media frenzy over their apparent guilt by association with a radical group whose numbers are minuscule in comparison to the millions of Muslims practising a peaceful version of the religion. Australia is not a comfortable place for Muslims right now. Nor is France, and nor is the UK. 

These are dangerous times. Our terror threat levels are set to severe, yet our rhetoric continues to feed the beast. The best way to get tough on terror would be to tone down the rhetoric and embrace policies that promote social cohesion and remain steadfast in the face of extremism on both sides of this growing political divide.


Papuans face ignorance, corruption and racism from Jakarta

by Michael Bachelard

This is the final part of former Fairfax Media Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard's series on Papua. Here is the introductionpart 1part 2part 3part 4part 5 and part 6.

After new Indonesian president Joko Widodo appointed his self-consciously titled 'working cabinet' late last year, activist Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch took calls from no fewer than nine of Jokowi's ministers or their staff. All of them had listened to Jokowi's promises during the election campaign to pay more attention to Papua and West Papua, and wanted to learn more.

Harsono was just one of what he says was a number of sources for these ministers, yet the level of ignorance they displayed in these conversations was acute.

Only weeks later, they proved it in spades. In late October, the Minister for Development of Disadvantaged Regions Marwan Jafar blundered into one of the most sensitive issues in Papua — the influx of non-Papuans — by announcing there was 'still a lot of land in Papua' and that he wanted to encourage many more Javanese people to migrate there as happy 'homesteaders'.

Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo followed the next day, saying his 'priority' was to split the half-island into even smaller administrative units. Tjahjo is a loyalist of Jokowi's patron, Megawati Sukarnoputri, and it was her decision as president in 2003 to split the province into three (later revised to two, Papua and West Papua). Her military intelligence gurus had told her it would weaken the independence movement and make it more difficult for foreign invaders to occupy. 

Tjahjo said his proposed split would also be for security reasons, to guard this 'huge area' against 'foreign intervention'. 

The influence of Megawati's dead hand was also quickly evident in Jokowi's appointment of former general Ryamizard Ryacudu, Megawati's ally, as defence minister. Ryamizard in 2001 had praised the killing of a key ethnic Papuan politician Theys Eluay, saying the Indonesian soldiers who murdered him were 'heroes because the person they killed was a rebel leader'.

In December, Jokowi himself also stumbled when he failed to comment, or to order an independent inquiry, into the killing of four young highland protesters by soldiers. It took three weeks, and a threat by churches to boycott his Christmas trip to the province, before he spoke up.

To the extent that Indonesians think of Papua at all, they think of a huge, rich, empty land mass that's vulnerable to exploitation and interference from foreign powers. The blame, they believe, rests with 'ABDA': Americans, British, Dutch and Australians. Australia, thanks to perceptions of its role in East Timor's independence, and the noisy pro-Papua activist movement it hosts, is especially suspicious.

How do Indonesians regard Papuans? They are broadly thought of as greedy, corrupt drunkards who need a good dose of Javanese sophistication. Racism is rife. Many sincerely believe that Papuans remain cannibals. Jakarta-based newspapers, even the English language ones, use the words 'stone-age' and 'backward' when referring to them. At soccer matches, according to jailed independence activist Filep Karma, Indonesian crowds make noises like monkeys in the direction of the Papuan team and throw bananas onto the field.

Australian lawyer and Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson said 'Only those who have known discrimination truly know its evil'. At all levels, discrimination is what Papuans face.

Two questions confront Indonesia when it comes to its easternmost provinces: economic rights and political rights.

Successive Indonesian presidents including Jokowi have emphasised economic empowerment, but the brief Abdurrahman Wahid-era experiment at more political empowerment (the so-called 'Papuan Spring') was quickly squashed by Megawati and her advisers. Papua now has 'special autonomy' status in Indonesia under which its local political elite (Papuans, to a man) are funded richly by Jakarta to govern it as part of the Indonesian system. The money is routinely rorted. But the other symbols and attributes of an independent state — the right to tax, to display flags or to sing anthems of independence — are denied. 

Papua also has Indonesia's largest and most uneasy Indonesian military and police presence, edgy young men living far from home in a place they fear. Institutionally, the police and military are desperate to maintain their outsized presence because their control of the fuel- and timber-smuggling trades, as well as the trade in drugs and prostitutes, is so lucrative.

In his conversations with Jokowi's ministers, Harsono had three suggestions to make to improve the situation in Papua. Firstly, open it up to international monitors, including the Western media; secondly, release the political prisoners; and thirdly, throw some kind of bone to the military — perhaps a grace period to wind up their financial affairs and improve their performance.

In May, 2015, Jokowi, visiting the province for the second time in six months, made a start. He announced the release of five prisoners and said Western journalists would be allowed free transit to and within Papua. Both measures, however, were immediately watered down. The fate of dozens of other political prisoners, including the iconic Filep Karma, who has grown old in prison after serving 10 years of a 15-year sentence for raising the banned Morning Star flag, was left unclear. Karma has refused to be released unless he is fully exonerated and declared innocent. And the head of the Indonesian armed forces, General Moeldoko, also began immediately placing conditions on journalists' access. Officials have since confirmed that the old media registration and permission process will remain, more or less intact.

I told Andreas Harsono what journalist Victor Mambor had told me: that whatever Jokowi's heart said about developing Papua, he would fail because the old guard that surrounds him would not allow him to succeed.

'I'm afraid I agree,' Harsono said. 'He's got the right intentions, but he's just surrounded by hardliners.'

Photo by Michael Bachelard, November 2014.


This week in Jakarta: 488 years of living dangerously

by Catriona Croft-Cusworth

Jakarta in 2015 is one of Asia's biggest megacities, with a population in its greater area close to 28 million. It's hot, it's crowded, it's deeply unequal, it has arguably the worst traffic in the world and it is in real danger of sinking into the sea. Yet the Indonesian capital continues to function and even grow. This week the city marked its 488th anniversary, sparking discussions on its past, present and future.

As a port, Jakarta's history goes back to the 4th century CE, but commemoration of the city proper is marked from the year 1527, when the port of Sunda Kelapa was reclaimed from the Portuguese and renamed Jayakarta. Since then it has taken on several names under several powers, including Batavia under the Dutch, Jakarta Toko Betsu Shi under the Japanese, and finally Jakarta as the capital of independent Indonesia.

Governor Basuki 'Ahok' Tjahaja Purnama led celebrations for this year's anniversary with a theme that encapsulates his vision for the capital: 'Jakarta: Modern, Creative and Cultural'. Public celebrations included food, fashion and craft fairs, as well as a million-dollar street parade called 'Jakarnaval', complete with decorated floats and cultural performances. The main festivities were held a few weeks prior to the anniversary date out of respect for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which started last week. Still , the ethnic Chinese Christian Ahok was criticised for including on the anniversary logo a red Chinese dragon, and not the official mascot of Jakarta, which is a white-headed eagle carrying snake fruit in its talons.

Speaking on the anniversary on Monday, Ahok highlighted his government's progress in pushing ahead with large-scale infrastructure projects started under Jokowi before he ran for president. These achievements are mainly related to the 'modern' and 'cultural' goals of the anniversary slogan, such as the construction of new flyover roads, adding more buses to city fleets, starting work on a much needed mass transit system, and revitalising heritage buildings in the Dutch-era Old Town. 

Less focus was given to Jakarta's creative potential, yet this will be the crucial element that keeps the city afloat in the years to come. The reason the city continues to function today is because of the myriad creative solutions Jakartans have come up with to navigate the challenges it throws their way. Many of these solutions are informal, and not all of them are entirely legal: for example, the territorial parking attendants who charge for space they don't own, but who nonetheless provide a service for motorists.

An international urban planning summit hosted by Jakarta earlier this month held a contest for 18- to 35-year-olds to find innovative solutions to the city's mobility and traffic problems. Entries included smartphone applications to measure air quality, or to enable women to report assault on public transport, as well as offline infrastructure such as cyclist 'hubs' with useful amenities. The winning idea was an app to find shorter, safer routes for walking and cycling through non-motorised residential streets.

As Jakarta's population continues to grow, so will the need for innovative solutions to the city's problems. Like megacities around the world, Jakarta will face huge challenges in meeting the needs of its citizens, managing resources sustainably and maintaining social harmony. The good news is that among its tens of millions of inhabitants, there are bound to be more than a few good ideas.

Photo by Flickr user tripletrouble.


More Recent Articles

You Might Like

Click here to safely unsubscribe from "The Interpreter."
Click here to view mailing archives, here to change your preferences, or here to subscribePrivacy