Indonesia suspends military cooperation with Australia
JAKARTA, Indonesia (UPDATED) – Indonesia said Wednesday, January 4 it has suspended military cooperation with Australia, reportedly due to training materials deemed offensive, in a fresh flare-up of tensions between the neighbors.
Cooperation including military exercises and education and exchange programs were put on hold last month, said Indonesian military spokesman Wuryanto.
"Military cooperation with Australian forces has been suspended temporarily due to technical matters," the spokesman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told Agence France-Presse.
In a statement, Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne confirmed that "Indonesia has informed Australia that defense cooperation would be suspended."
"As a result, some interaction between the two Defence organisations has been postponed until the matter is resolved. Cooperation in other areas is continuing," it said.
The statement also offered an explanation for the suspension, saying that "late last year, concerns were raised by an Indonesian TNI (military) officer about some teaching materials and remarks at an Army language training facility in Australia."
She said that Australian Chief of the Defense Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, wrote to his Indonesian counterpart, General Gatot Nurmantyo, saying that the matter would be looked into, when the issue was raised. The Australian Army has since launched an investigation into the concern and is awaiting results.
Wuryanto refused to confirm this was the cause, saying only that the suspension was due to several problems.
Ups and downs
Payne attempted to downplay the suspension saying "Defence cooperation takes place within the broader context of the Australia-Indonesia relationship, which is in very good shape with extensive cooperation across a wide range of government agencies."
"Australia is committed to building a strong Defence relationship with Indonesia, including through cooperation in training. We will work with Indonesia to restore full cooperation as soon as possible," she said.
Yohanes Sulaiman, an Indonesian military expert, said the suspension was significant but predicted it would not last long as cooperation between the neighbors was vital on matters such as security and trade.
"Both countries need each other," he told AFP. "They need to maintain security in the South China Sea especially now that China is becoming more dominant there."
The neighbors are key allies but the relationship has had many ups and downs.
Ties sank to their lowest level in years under former Australian premier Tony Abbott due to rows about Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers and Canberra's hardline policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia.
Indonesia had previously suspended military exercises with Australia, in 2013, due to allegations that Australian spies tried to tap the phone of then Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, but they resumed the following year.
Wuryanto said the Indonesian military sent a letter to the Australian Defence Force on December 9 notifying them of the suspension.
"Hopefully the problem will be resolved soon," he said, adding that the Indonesian military was still in communication with the Australian forces.
It was the first serious row between the neighbors for some time, with relations having improved since Malcolm Turnbull became Australia's leader in 2015. – Rappler.com/with reports from Agence France-Presse