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Indonesia takes aim at her foot

I wrote this in response to what I took as a typically self-absorbed and childish attitude displayed by an Indonesian Minister, this time in the international diplomatic world. It prompted both howls of indignation from Indonesians and numerous requests for reprinting rights, mainly from Singaporean media.

The Jakarta Globe

March 23, 2009
Unneighborly Indonesia Only Hurting Itself
Patrick Guntensperger

Indonesia’s diplomacy paradigm

Indonesia and Singapore have been engaged in protracted negotiations to arrive at a mutually satisfactory Defense Cooperation Agreement and a parallel extradition treaty. The two nations reached an accommodation and, in 2007, the agreements were signed.

The Indonesian House of Representatives, however, savaged the agreement, declaring that the treaty somehow compromised Indonesian security, and as a result the treaties were never implemented. The Indonesian government then went back to the Singaporean negotiators insisting upon a series of substantive changes, all favorable to Indonesia. Singapore quite reasonably refused, since there already exists a negotiated, signed treaty.

Now Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono weighs in with his views on the issue. On March 19 he was quoted as having said, “Singapore doesn’t want this extradition arrangement because it would have to return money from corrupt individuals who ran from Indonesia, along with the hot money it gets from other countries.”

Disregarding for a moment his astonishing lack of diplomacy, and the frankly insulting tone and content of a statement coming from a senior minister of Indonesia’s government about our closest neighbor, Juwono might consider for a moment the fact that Singapore has every reason to “set aside the issues for the time being,” as Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo put it.While it is likely that Singapore is somewhat reluctant to turn over vast amounts of cash pilfered by corrupt Indonesians and deposited in Singaporean accounts, is Juwono seriously suggesting that as the country’s sole or even primary cause for refusing to renegotiate a deal that took years to finalize?

Perhaps Juwono ought to consider the obvious fact that since any agreement with Indonesia may simply be reneged upon and new terms demanded, even after having been signed by the other side in good faith, there is little point in pursuing any negotiations. Why would Singapore, given the history of this negotiation, want to sit down at a table with Indonesian representatives and try to make any deal at all?

Another issue that might have some influence on Singapore’s reluctance to hand over still more concessions to Indonesia is the very nature of extradition treaties. Since all negotiations (in theory, at least) involve some give and take, Singapore must quite reasonably be asking what it would gain from an extradition treaty with Indonesia. It’s obvious what Indonesia would gain. There would be a possibility of repatriating some of the billions of dollars stolen by Indonesians from Indonesia and poured into banks and investment vehicles in Singapore.

But what’s in it for Singapore?Extradition treaties, under the best of circumstances, are difficult to work out. Even countries that are similar culturally, historically and with respect to their legal systems find extradition law difficult to adjudicate. Canada and the United States, for example, have similar cultures and legal systems and are frequently at odds over extradition. Since Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, it won’t extradite murder suspects to the United States as long as the death penalty is on the table. Nevertheless, extraditions for lesser crimes occur on a nearly daily basis. This is because each country respects the integrity of the other’s judicial system. If someone is tried in either country, the other one assumes that the trial was fair, just, impartial.

That level of trust is a vital component of any extradition treaty.Indonesia’s judicial system, however, is perceived as being one of the three most corrupt institutions in the country. The police are also among the top three. This doesn’t bode well for an extradition agreement. And the third? The House of Representatives, the very group that squashed the treaty after five years of negotiation finally led to the signing of the deal.

The Indonesian government must recognize that when working on an international agreement that is beneficial to Indonesia, but not particularly significant to anyone else, we are not dealing from a position of strength. It would be wise to acknowledge that we need the deal; Singapore doesn’t.

Juwono, normally a thoughtful and moderate politician, should realize that Singapore has every reason not to trust Indonesia at the moment and that by making statements like he did this week, he erodes that relationship even further.Moreover, our honorable House members would be well advised to realize that reneging on signed agreements destroys the trust that is an essential element of any successful negotiation.

If the House is going to undermine the reputation of all Indonesian diplomats and international negotiators, it ought to be for a very good reason indeed. Flexing its muscles and doing it just because it can, isn’t sufficient.


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