In today’s geopolitics, Australia must balance relations with its largest trading partner China and key defence ally, the United States, at a time of spirited jousting. Maintaining good relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also becomes essential with expanding Chinese power. Significantly, ASEAN has a dominant 67% majority Muslim population.
Indonesia is expected to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050.
Former PM Paul Keating remarked, “No country is more important to Australia than Indonesia. If we fail to get this relationship right … the whole web of our foreign relations is incomplete.”
Indonesia and Malaysia, Muslim-majority countries, have long-standing ties with Australia who supported Indonesia’s independence and helped Malaysia win against a communist insurgency.
It stunned them when PM Scott Morrison announced Australia’s interest to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
It threatened a much-desired trade agreement with Indonesia.
In criticising Australia’s proposal, former Ambassador, Nadjib Kesoema, urged Australia to differentiate itself from US policies if it wished to ‘play a more important role among Asian countries.’
Barrister-at-Law, James O’Neill, remarked that the announced decision to move the Australian embassy to Jerusalem reflects Australia’s long-standing tolerance of Israel’s persistent violation of international law.
Josh Frydenberg, in criticising Malaysian PM Mahathir’s critique of the embassy proposal, implied the policy is in ‘the national interest’. Frydenberg is ill-informed.
Newspoll found only 34% of Australians surveyed supported the move while 40% opposed it.
Veteran diplomat, John McCarthy, slammed the announcement warning such a move would damage relations with Indonesia and Malaysia.
McCarthy questioned ‘Why is Australia buying into the issue now given it’s not our area of principle foreign policy focus?’
The reason in this writer’s view is rapid ‘Zionisation’ of Australia’s foreign and defence relations.
In October it was announced, “Given Australia’s increased engagement with Israel on defence and security matters, the Government will appoint an Australian Defence Attaché in Tel Aviv and invited Israel to appoint its own Defence Attaché in Canberra.”
Close military relations with Israel have not been justified to the Public. A BBC World Service poll found 67% of Australians viewed Israel’s influence negatively.
Of concern to pro-Palestinian Malaysia and Indonesia, Australian-Israeli ties align with strengthening military ties with Singapore, close ally of Israel who helped build Singapore’s military.
The Australia-Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, signed in 2016, permits Singapore to develop a huge military training complex in Queensland. 14,000 Singapore personnel can train there for over 25 years.
Singapore has a disproportionately large military. Since 2007 Israel and Singapore placed first and second on the Global Militarisation Index. Singapore has Southeast Asia’s strongest air-force and navy.
These developments indicate a budding Israel-Australia-Singapore military alliance, which will concern our peaceful neighbours.
In 2017 Australia’s forces were shown to be using anti-Indonesian training materials, which resulted in Indonesia ‘suspending’ military ties.
Indonesia, is not, however, a credible threat.
Michael Wesley suggested in “Australian Foreign Affairs” that it was only Britain who recognised Australia’s strategic value and invaded, implying that Java’s Majapahit kingdom overlooked this value.
Indonesian customary law recognises prior ownership rights of occupants. Indonesians finding Aborigines utilising Australia’s northern coasts before Europeans arrived, recognised their occupancy rights and so didn’t invade.
This scuttles the misguided view of some ‘analysts’, of Indonesia as a potential invader.
Important issues related to Australia’s relationship with Israel, and policies which impact on our ASEAN neighbours, are not discussed in Parliament or reported in mainstream newspapers.
The concern arises, ‘Is Australia moving towards undemocratic elite decision-making, which can impact negatively on our national interest and security?’
Dr Daud Batchelor, an Australian Muslim, was Associate Fellow until December 2015 at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies Malaysia. He holds an MA in Islamic and Other Civilisations and a Diploma in Islamic Studies from the International Islamic University Malaysia, PhD from University of Malaya, MSc from the University of London, and MEngSc in environmental management from Griffith University. He is cofounder of the Islamic College of Brisbane and currently resides in Brisbane.