Australia and Indonesia
Seize the window of opportunity, says Professor Damien Kingsbury.
Deakin University's Director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights, Professor Damien Kingsbury, is once again playing a critical role in the region's affairs, this time advising on Australia's future relationship with Indonesia.
Professor Kingsbury's strategy paper "Two steps forward, one step back: Indonesia's arduous path of reform" for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute - a government think-tank – was released in January and urges the government to seize the window of opportunity created by the leadership of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and secure key aspects of the relationship.
"Indonesia is Australia's largest near neighbour, the world's largest Muslim country, a major regional diplomatic actor, the key transit point for Australian trade, travel and irregular migration and, again, a growing economic partner," he said.
"Both countries can profitably improve their economic and security relationship by pursuing stronger people-to-people engagement through education, aid and disaster assistance."
Professor Kingsbury called on the government to stem the decline in 'Indonesian literacy' by giving greater support to Indonesian language programs in schools and universities, expanding the tertiary scholarship program with Indonesia, giving incentives for studying Indonesian and fund research into Indonesian economics, geography, politics and society.
Controversially, Professor Kingsbury, who played a pivotal role in bringing peace to Aceh, also argued that Australia should pursue a stronger military relationship, indeed a formal alliance with the country.
"Indonesia's growing economy and population make it a natural leader of Southeast Asia," he said.
"Indonesia's economy, in terms of purchasing power constitutes about one-third of the ASEAN states' aggregate economies, and its population is almost 40% of their aggregate populations.
"So far, Indonesia hasn't been able to convert those assets into pre-eminence within Southeast Asia, but that may change if it can maintain its growth trajectory."
Professor Kingsbury said Indonesia was now also more interested in external issues and some within the Indonesian leadership were keen for it to play a broader role in the Asia-Pacific region and to take a seat at the global table.
"Indonesia may or may not broaden its strategic horizons quickly but it doesn't need to lift its horizon much in order to find strategic significance – Southeast Asia itself is quickly becoming an area of heightened strategic importance."
Professor Kingsbury said as middle powers with different capabilities, Indonesia and Australia were complementary partners.
"For a complementary partnership to unfold both governments would have to want it to be more than it is now," he said.
"We 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."