Indonesian officials insisted Thursday that relations with neighboring Australia were in good shape and a suspension of military cooperation would be limited to language training only.
Addressing the issue for the first time, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo stressed that Indonesia’s relations with Australia – a strategic partner and ally in counter-terrorism efforts – were fine despite the spat between their militaries.
“I think our relationship with Australia is still in a good condition. Only maybe at the operational level there are things that needed to be sorted out to avoid further tensions,” Jokowi told journalists in Jakarta.
The president spoke a day after officials with the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) announced that Indonesia had suspended military ties with Australia because of training material found at an Australian army base that was deemed offensive to Pancasila, Indonesia’s founding philosophy.
“The problem needs to be solved first, because even though it is at the operational level, it is a matter of principle,” Jokowi said.
The two countries have agreed to respect each other and to not interfere in domestic affairs, he added.
Jokowi said he had ordered Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo to deal with the issue so that it does not damage relations between the two countries.
On Thursday, Indonesian officials appeared to scale back earlier comments about the extent of the suspension.
The country’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, Wiranto, said the suspension was limited only to “the cooperation program of language training for Australia special forces because of a case that offended the honor of Indonesia in November 2016.”
TNI officials had said Wednesday that the Indonesian military would suspend all forms of cooperation with its Australian counterpart, including education, exchange programs, joint exercises and reciprocal visits by military officials.
A member of the Indonesian Special Forces Command serving as an instructor at an army base in Perth, Western Australia, had complained about training materials deemed as insulting the Pancasila.
“The Armed Forces chief took temporary steps to suspend the language training, not suspending the whole defense cooperation,” Wiranto told a news conference.
He said cooperation would resume after Australia took the necessary steps to solve the problem.
“[An] Investigation has been taken and the commander of the language-training [program] has been suspended,” Wiranto said.
On Thursday, TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo shed more light on what had caused the rift.
The insults included a document referring to Pancasila (“the five founding principles”) as “Pancagila” (“the five crazies”) and it also touched on two issues that are highly sensitive to the Indonesian people.
The offensive document contained offensive comments about Indonesia’s past military role in East Timor and suggested that the eastern region of “Papua has to be independent,” Gatot told reporters.
In 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that eventually won its freedom from Indonesia in a 1999 U.N.-monitored referendum on independence. It is now the nation of Timor-Leste.
Papua, a former Dutch colony, officially became part of Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-mandated “Act of Free Choice,” but locals have since agitated from independence from Jakarta.
Gatot said objections were raised with Australian regarding such sensitive topics.
“I am good friends with the Australian Defense Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, and he has sent a letter of apology,” Gatot said.
Indonesian analysts applauded the military’s action.
“The suspension of the cooperation is a right decision for the ADF commander promised to do an investigation on this issue,” Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law analyst from the University of Indonesia, told BenarNews.
International relations analyst Melda Kamil Ariadno agreed that bilateral relations need to be based on respect and trust.
“If it is true there is an insult to the symbol of the country, I think the move (taken by Indonesia) was appropriate,” she told BenarNews.
“It is the time for Indonesia to uphold its national dignity in front of any country.”
In 2013, Jakarta suspended military ties after discovering that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization had tapped the phones of then-Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The rift was eased after the Indonesian and Australian foreign ministers signed a code of conduct on espionage in Bali in 2014.