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Does Australia become hegemony in Asia Pacific?

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It is Indonesia’s destiny geographically to have Australia as the only neighbor in the South. The two countries suppose to have many advantages as the result of their geographical proximity.

The close relation between Indonesia and Australia was showed once again when Kevin Rudd visited Indonesia and held a bilateral meeting with his Indonesian counterpart President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, just few days after he was reinstalled as the Australian Prime Minister. The bilateral meeting was taken in Bogor Palace, Indonesia on July 5, 2013. Kevin Rudd defeated Julia Gillard from the country’s Labor party’s chairmanship on June 26 (abc.net.au/news; 26 June 2013).

In the meeting which President Yudhoyono described as very productive and constructive, both leaders discussed various issues including asylum seekers issue, in particular people smuggling. At the time, President Yudhoyono came up with an initiative to hold a meeting hosted by the two countries, Indonesia and Australia, and inviting specific countries that most affected by the problem from Asia Pacific. Based on that idea, the participants would be from origin countries where the immigrants come from, their transit countries and destination countries. Therefore, the meeting was aimed at finding solution for the problem when those parties are sitting together. Prime Minister Rudd agreed and supported the initiative according to President Yudhoyono (setkab.go.id; 5 July 2013).

But what was happened after the meeting in Bogor? Few days after his returning to Australia from Indonesia, Prime Minister Rudd has signed a pact with his Papua New Guinea (PNG) counterpart Prime Minister Peter O’Neil on July 19 regarding asylum seekers and people smuggling issue. The essence of the pact is for those asylum seekers who are coming to Australia by boat or illegally will be taken to processing center in PNG’s Manus Island and after some checking and when they are found as genuine refugee then they will be transferred to PNG and will not enter Australia or get Australian visa (AAP; 19 July 2013). The so-called Regional Settlement Agreement between Australia and PNG plans to cost Aus$1.1 billion or around $980 million has been activated since August 1, 2013 (thejakartaglobe.com; 23 August 2013).

The hard-line decision made by Prime Minister Rudd through the arrangement with PNG looks like “stabbed Indonesia from the back” because as the same time Indonesia was preparing a conference pertaining the issue based on President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Rudd’s agreement at the two leaders bilateral meeting in Bogor in early July. However, Canberra did not inform Indonesia before announcing its new policy on asylum seekers to Jakarta until after Prime Minister Rudd announced the policy on July 19 (abc.net.au; 26 July 2013).

The Indonesian government said that the pact between Australia and PNG is only part of Australia’s sovereignty to have any kind of bilateral relation or bilateral agreement with other countries beside Indonesia. Same in Australia, the opposition warned Prime Minister Rudd that his hard-line policy on asylum seekers could harm Australia-Indonesia’s relationship.

Prime Minister Rudd does not stopped lobbying other countries especially in Pacific region after PNG to help Australia in handling people smuggling issue. Nauru is one of the countries which was offered financial support if they agree to help Australia to tackle asylum seekers problem. Nauru agreed to support and to participate in the new Australia’s asylum seekers policy. Meanwhile, Salomon islands refused to support it (The Jakarta Globe, August 23, 2013).

Why did Australia ask those countries in Pacific region to help supporting its policy on asylum seekers? If we are looking at those countries offered by Australia to support its policy on asylum seekers, most of them are poor nations. Was it only because of the leadership of Prime Minister Rudd who wants to win Australia’s election this year in September or because of the weakness of those countries due to economic problem?

The two options could be correct. Indeed, Australia have voted for the next prime minister. Kevin Rudd’s action as the leader of the party was to keep his premier seat. He had to please his Australian voters who are mostly disagreeing with the wave of immigrants coming to Australia. Therefore, he took the strong decision regarding immigrants issue even though he could hurt Indonesia by enforcing a hard-line policy. In the other hand many countries in the Pacific region such as PNG and Nauru, they are poor countries and need financial support from “the have” country like Australia.

It seems Rudd does understand how to restrain his power by using the weakness which is economic weakness of Australian neighbor in the Pacific region. In that stage, Australia becomes hegemony among those states because of unequal or asymmetrical economic relations with the neighboring countries. And it is not easy for Australia under Prime Minister Rudd to become hegemony over Indonesia even though there is inequality in the economic sector but Indonesia has other power beside economic factor alone. But still, it is valid to say that Australia is searching for more influence over Indonesia and also other countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Malaysia. It is putting these countries in a position where they are conditioned to agree, which is what hegemony is about.

The hegemony that is performed by Australia is suitable with the characteristic of hegemony theory in international relations , as that devised by Antonio Gramsci. The pressure from public society in Australia is forcing the then Prime Minister Rudd to impose a hard-line policy pertaining people smuggling issue as political competition becomes harder over there before September election. This is also the position that is proven to be popular, given that the newly elected Prime Minister Tony Abbott from the Liberal Party win on this basis too. Lucky for Australia, its strong economic power has put strengthen its position viz-a-viz the neighboring countries in Asia-Pacific, enabling it to push for its agendas. .

In the general election on 7 September 2013, Australia’s opposition has crushed the governing Labor party. The Liberal-National coalition has returned to power for the first time in six years. President Yudhoyono has opened the way for Tony Abbott to make his first foreign visit as Prime Minister elect to Indonesia, with bilateral talks on the controversial policy of turning around asylum-seeker boats possible within a fortnight. Abbott has indicated that the Coalition’s controversial policy to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australia will begin the day the new government is sworn in.

 

 

By: Telly Nathali – student, Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy

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