Indonesia and Australia are bound together by a special relationship — a friendship forever defined by Australians’ early support of Indonesia’s struggle for independence; and one further solidified as the two nations stood hand in hand in support of one another in overcoming natural disasters, acts of terror and other common challenges
I believe Australia-Indonesia relations remind that each and every one of us has the potential to promote change — positive change. And foreign policy is not an exception.
In the Asia-Pacific region, foreign policy must entail renewing efforts to maintain the peace and stability that have served the region well. Many countries in the region have been able to reap a “peace dividend” in the form of an almost uninterrupted pursuit of economic development, lifting millions out of poverty.
But what kind of external environment confronts Indonesia and Australia as the two countries deepen bilateral ties? More specifically, what are the challenges to the region’s peace and security?
The situation on the Korean Peninsula, for example, has been perennial in the region’s list of challenges. Risk exponentially increased recently with the possibility of further nuclear proliferation.
The myriad of territorial disputes in the region is another. In the East China Sea or the South China Sea, for instance, claimant countries test the others’ resolve, constantly prodding and seeking to establish facts on the ground, aimed at extracting acquiescence. Conditions are prone to miscalculation and incidents can escalate into open conflict. Beyond looms the risk of new strategic fault lines in the region.
Are we to witness the old Cold War divide replaced by new tensions and conflict? Will the dynamics of relations between countries in the region, large and small, have a stabilizing influence in the Asia-Pacific, or the opposite?
Adding to the complexities is the reality of the virtual indivisibility of internal and external issues, of internal developments with regional ramifications. Communal and sectarian conflicts, issues relating to democratic deficit and trans-boundary or transnational issues, such as communicable disease, terrorism, human trafficking and people smuggling, are good examples.
All countries in the region must rise to meet such challenges. To do so, allow me to highlight three basic responses.
First, we need to transform “trust deficit” into strategic partnership.
Set aside worst-case assumptions of the other’s intention, which feed action-reaction, a vicious cycle of increasing tensions and of deepening distrusts. Essentially, I believe that we should stop in its tracks the often seemingly relentless rush toward conflict — to end the sense of inevitability of conflict.
To build trust and confidence, we must establish enhanced communications — formal and informal, governmental and nongovernmental. The establishment of lines of communications, especially in times of crisis, are not signs of weakness or acquiescence; rather they are means to decipher and convey intent, without prejudicing or sacrificing principled position.
Second, we need a commitment to peaceful settlement of disputes.
Non-use of force. Placing diplomacy at the forefront. Aggressively waging peace. I believe that overlapping territorial claims do not have to equate conflict. This requires, however, a commitment from parties to a territorial dispute to respect certain codes of behavior or conduct.
In the South China Sea context, this means the drawing up of a regional code of conduct between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China. Elsewhere it may involve less formal arrangements or understandings. However, the essence remains: avoid miscalculation or unintended crisis. Settle disputes peacefully.
Third, we must address geopolitical shifts and change.
Change permeates our region. Change and transformation within countries — political and economic — have ramifications far beyond their borders. Equally significant has been the transformation of the region’s economies, turning them to drivers of global economic growth.
As change occurs, we should usher a fresh paradigm in the region’s interstate relations, one that promotes a “dynamic equilibrium.”
The word “dynamic” reflects recognition that change is inherent and a constant in the region. It is a natural phenomenon that cannot be sustainably resisted. At the same time, “equilibrium” reminds that this state of constant change does not imply an anarchical state of affairs, either due to the unchecked preponderance of a single state, or due to the disorder or uncertainty associated with a multipolar region.
Instead, peace and stability in the region should be gained through the promotion of common security, prosperity and stability. These are actually common goods for all.
A dynamic equilibrium thus is marked by an absence of preponderant power, not through the rigidity, rivalry and tensions common to the pursuit of a balance of power. Instead, it’s built through through respect of certain principles and norms, reflecting common responsibility in maintaining the region’s peace and stability.
To reflect such an approach, Indonesia is ready to work toward an Asia-Pacific or Indo-Pacific treaty of friendship and cooperation. A commitment by states in the region to build confidence, solve disputes through peaceful means and promote common security.
A treaty, not unlike the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which has been such an instrumental part in this region’s evolution from one marked by conflict to one which is today on the eve of a community.
This treaty provides flesh and strengthens the commitment already expressed through the so-called “Bali Principles” on the Principles for Mutually Beneficial Relations agreed at the East Asia Summit of 2011.
Australia and Indonesia can do so much bilaterally, as well as for the region and for the rest of the world through our Comprehensive Partnership.
The way Australia and Indonesia work together in addressing common challenges can serve as a template for cooperation among nations in addressing the larger challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific region.
Every accomplishment of this partnership sends a strong message to the rest of the world: that nations, no matter how different they are from one another, can work together not only for their mutual benefit but also for the good of their region and beyond.
Marty Natalegawa is the foreign minister of Indonesia. This article is adapted from a speech delivered on Monday at Macquarie University in Australia.