Last week US President Barrack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled the plan of establishing a US base equipped with 2,500 US marines in Darwin, Australia’s Northern Territory, only 820 kilometers from Indonesian territory. The Jakarta Post reported that the new US base should not be a threat to Indonesia, as President Yudhoyono was reassured by Gillard that “Australia and the US meant no harm in their plan to build military base in Darwin.”
International Law Professor Hikmahanto Juwana was quick to analyze that US interests may change from time-to-time, thus he warned that Indonesia should nevertheless be cautious about the US military presence in Australia. A part of that cautiousness was also attributed to whether the US would intervene among the rising tensions in the Papua region of Indonesia. Although during the recent visit, US Defense Secretary Leon Panettavoiced support for Indonesia’s strong stance against the Papua separatist movement.
The US and Australia have always been strong allies since a very long time, and as Michael Wesley from Lowy Institute have mentioned in an AlJazeera interview:
Australians tend to think with the American alliance as an insurance policy. We’re paying our premiums, we go to Afghanistan, we go to Iraq, and we just hope that the insurance premium will come when we’re in trouble.
And this is not a reason for Indonesia to be cautious with either Australia or the US?
One possibility of why Obama paved the way for the military base in Australia was to have a strategic position in the region especially to counter China’s influence. China was also quick to react to the plan, saying that “one should consider other regional countries’ interests when developing ties in that region”. Indeed, Stephen Walt from Foreign Policy explained why the US have been shifting a lot of strategic attention to Asia and mostly it is to contain China’s growing powers.
A friend once joked that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. But when two elephants make love, the grass suffers also. It is too early to tell what Indonesia can get out of this positioning, but surely we need to figure out how to make the best out of the situation.