By Benjamin Schreer
This week, I participated in the 39th meeting of the Australian Member Committee of the Council for Security Co-operation in the Asia-Pacific (Aus-CSCAP) in Darwin. This year’s theme was the US ‘rebalance’ and Southeast Asia, with a specific focus on the implications for Australia–Indonesia defence cooperation.
Comprising officials, academics and journalists from both countries, the discussions were open, frank and refreshing. For me, one of the key messages during the meeting was that Indonesia increasingly sees defence cooperation with the US as both a strategic and a tactical asset amid power shifts in Southeast Asia. My clear impression was that, if push comes to shove, Jakarta will side with Washington against Beijing’s attempt to establish a hegemonic position in Southeast Asia.
Much has been made of Indonesian concerns over the US ‘pivot’ announcement in November 2011 and the accompanying decision to rotate US Marine contingents through bases in northern Australia. However, as became very clear at the meeting, Jakarta’s criticism of the pivot was more for domestic consumption than reflecting serious strategic concerns about the Darwin deployment. In fact, Indonesian participants readily admitted that Jakarta very much welcomed the pivot for strategic and tactical reasons.