25 September 2023

Australia and Indonesia: Can we be friends?

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Edited by Jonathan Pearlman, Australian Foreign Affairs, $22.99.

Pearlman delves into what might seem a “crude measure of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia” in issue 3 of the Australian Foreign Affairs periodical.

Pearlman hits hard reality as he notes “more people travel to Ho Chi Minh City, to Vancouver or to Johannesburg each year than to the capital of our largest northern neighbour”.

The numbers to Jakarta are not impressive. There has also been a decrease in Indonesian language study and no increase in the number of Indonesian students coming to Australia in the past two decades.

“Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is not that it has gone backwards from a very low base, but that these two nations, despite their proximity, have successfully made themselves so invisible to each other.”

Pearlman says to address this great ignorance and indifference, both nations “will need to change their perceptions of each other. At present, too little, aside from geography, is keeping them close.”

As the synopsis points out: examined is the turbulent relationship between Australia and Indonesia, and the missteps and missed opportunities that have prevented the forging of a friendship. It examines Indonesia’s rise, its sharp religious and political divisions, and the opportunities and challenges this presents for Australia.

Other contributing authors also make strong points.

Hugh White examines why Australia should embrace the rise of Indonesia, which could be a valuable ally, but also a dangerous adversary.

Jennifer Rayner analyses Australia’s economic and political challenges as it struggles to keep pace with its northern neighbour.

Endy M. Bayuni reports on the Indonesian perspective on Australia and the misperceptions that hinder closer ties.

Tim Lindsey explores the growth of conservative Islam in Indonesia, reflecting on what this means for Australia and the world.

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