A SENIOR Indonesian politician has labelled Australia as Indonesia’s “greatest threat” as the country speeds up a push to ramp up its military firepower.
It comes at a time of growing turmoil in Australia’s relationship with Indonesia after revelations last week Australian Navy vessels breached Indonesia’s territorial waters while enforcing the Coalition’s asylum seeker policy.
According to The Jakarta Post , Indonesia is greatly expanding its Marine Corps.
The nation is reportedly awaiting the delivery of 30 F-16 fighters, a dozen Apache attack helicopters and 103 Leopard battle tanks from the US and Germany, and is purchasing a dozen Russian submarines armed with cruise missiles.
The country has warned it will deploy navy vessels to patrol its coast after the Australian incursion last week. The nation’s Air Force has also programmed four radars to monitor the country’s southern border.
“The greatest threat will obviously be from Australia,” the Post quoted Susaningtyas Handayani Kertopati, a member of Indonesia’s influential House defence, intelligence and foreign affairs committee as saying.
Indonesian soldiers, left, and navy special force members line up during a security parade last year. Picture: AP Source: AFP
She said the military should strengthen its “outward-looking” approach due to signs of escalating threats. The Post also quoted an anonymous official who said a clash at sea could be “imminent”.
“Now that we have three frigates on the border, a clash could be imminent as our Navy will prevent the towing back,” the official said.
One expert told news.com.au the military upgrade was a response to fears about Australia, which is “front and centre” in the country’s mind at the moment, as well as concerns about other neighbours and growing powers such as India and China.
An Australian Navy vessel sailing alongside a wooden boat carrying up to 180 asylum seekers on the waters off Christmas Island, Australia, in 2012. Picture: EPA Source: AFP
Professor Damien Kingsbury from Deakin University said: “Indonesia has always been pensive about its territorial integrity and Australia has played a role in that in the past.”
“There’s a sensitivity about that. If Indonesia did that to Australia we’d be very upset, if not more so,” he said.
The Australian Government apologised to Indonesia after Navy vessels “inadvertently” breached Indonesia’s territory “on several occasions” in recent weeks.
Australia’s relationship with Indonesia has hit rocky waters recently, particularly because of the government’s ‘turn back the boats’ policy and allegations from US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden that Australia spied on the country’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and his wife, Ani in 2009.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife Ani were targeted by Australian intelligence agencies in 2009. Picture: AP Source: Supplied
Prof Kingsbury said the Government had handled the spying issue “very poorly”. “We needed to apologise and we needed to do it quickly and we didn’t,” he told news.com.au.
At a media interview at the weekend, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said she works very closely with her Indonesian equivalent, Dr Marty Natalegawa.
“We’re in regular communication, we are working together for the shared purpose of ensuring the people smuggling trade is dismantled but also that the Australia-Indonesia relationship is strengthened.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said at a press conference this afternoon that Tony Abbott’s policies were causing tension with Indonesia.
“Our relationship with Indonesia is important. Clearly Abbott policies are causing real friction with Indonesia.”