Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"THE Kinabalu Talks" - The Indonesia Malaysia Confrontation

"THE Kinabalu Talks", as they were billed in Indonesian newspapers, have ended satisfactorily. In an understated but critical meeting in Kota Kinabalu on Monday, the foreign ministers of the two nations, Dr Marty Natalegawa and Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, summarily resolved the most crucial element going forward -- in essence, that Indonesia and Malaysia would assemble better machinery for addressing conflicts such as the cross-border incident of Aug 13. Some aspects of their compromise were tellingly commonsensical: bona fide officials of either country apprehended in suspicious circumstances are not to be treated as criminals; not to be handcuffed or forced to wear prisoners' garb. Technology, too, offers a means to prevent citizens of either country straying over our shared maritime border, with GPS tracking devices to be made mandatory on vessels in these waters.

Other related matters are dicier, such as determining the true intentions of the Indonesian fisheries officers in arresting those Malaysian fishermen that fateful day. The meeting of ministers has not closed the case or settled the questions at the root of this episode -- investigations must proceed -- but it has emphatically reaffirmed that the hateful belligerence that ensued against Malaysians, their embassy and their interests in Jakarta after Aug 13 is not to be tolerated. There are suggestions of a political dimension to those ugly protests, which are suspected to have been stoked by elements seeking local party-political advantage. Be that as it may, such machinations are of less concern to Malaysians than that there should never again arise cause for any such rabble-rousing in the first place.

At government-to-government level, bilateral "technical meetings" have now been scheduled for the sidelines of the upcoming United Nations general assembly and again in October and November. These should become a regular feature of our bilateral contacts, as a constant working engagement to develop the greater cooperation obviously necessary between Indonesia and Malaysia in our shared waters -- particularly in determining, once and for all, where exactly these lines are drawn.

Also significantly, the ministers offered regrets over the incident but no apologies. Indeed, none are necessary. These things happen. What's needed is to prevent them happening if possible -- and to deal with them without hostility, violence and threats to national sovereignty if and when they do. Diplomacy has stepped into this acrimonious breach with such sober clarity and resolve as should encourage the more volatile sectors of both societies to leave these matters to the professionals. New Straits Times Kuala Lumpur

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