Australians have long worried about whether Indonesia is ‘special’ or ‘normal’. Instead, we need to deal with Indonesia as it really is—a country experiencing simultaneously the challenges of political reform, economic development and a shifting regional security environment. The country’s political future is less certain than we would hope: after SBY’s term of government ends, the choice of a successor will be critical in determining the future of reform. We can’t rule out that Indonesia might slide back to old ways of doing business—democratisation is a fraught process.
As the Indonesian economy grows, so too do the prospects for Indonesia to establish its natural position as the leader of Southeast Asia. As the world is re-examining Indonesia, so too Indonesia is looking afresh at the world—more interested in external issues than it was a decade ago. The Southeast Asian subregion increasingly finds itself at the centre of a more strongly interconnected Indo-Pacific region—so Indonesia’s strategic importance is going up.
It’s important for Australia to build a better strategic relationship with Indonesia. The two are complementary partners. Australia should be proactive in exploring new opportunities for cooperation with a reform minded Indonesia—it’s in our interests to draw Indonesia into a more important strategic role in regional security.
Professor Damien Kingsbury, the author of this Strategy, is the Director, Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Melbourne.