North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New leaders in Australia and Indonesia provide an opportunity to strengthen ties

On the surface, Australia and Indonesia are as different as can be. Indonesia has a large variety of South Asian cultures and ethnic groups, and is a Muslim country. Australia has a legacy of British colonization, and a decidedly Western perspective. One has a population 10 times that of the other.

Australia and Indonesia, close neighbors but different societies. Australia straddles a continent with 23 million citizens, while Indonesia is comprised of a complicated land base of 18,300 + islands, holding a population of 250 million. Map from

Yet both are democracies, and have shared interests in economic development, trade, and South Asian stability.

For many Westerners, we're likely more familiar with Australia and the Sydney Opera House, than Jakarta, Indonesia's capitol city. Here is Jakarta, modern and packed with approximately 10 million residents. Photo from

So today we are watching the inauguration of a new Indonesian leader attended by a fairly new Australian prime minister. Good for them as they attempt to strengthen ties and trust, as there are also strains between the two countries.

Australia's 28th Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, leads the nation's Liberal party, and has shown a strong and continued interest in Aboriginal issues. At the same time, he has also been an advocate for limiting illegal immigration and staunchly turning back asylum seekers attempting to reach the country by boat. Photo from

For Australia's part, Tony Abbott, Australia's Prime Minister has offered these words regarding Indonesia, "Australia wants the new president to succeed – because a strong, prospering, democratic Indonesia has so much to offer the world," ... "It has the world's largest Muslim population, it is the world's third largest democracy and, along with India, it's the emerging democratic superpower of Asia," he said. Abbott states that his foreign policy focus is regional; "more Jakarta, less Geneva" though Australia has once again sent military forces to Iraq to battle ISIS.

Indonesia's new President is Joko Widodo, former governor of Jakarta, the special capitol region of the nation. Known in Indonesia as Jokowi, he is only the 2nd directly-elected leader of this nation, and part of his popularity is from distancing himself from the old style of past leadership. He has maintained an active interaction with the Indonesian public, is an advocate for the marginalized, and more or less recognized as an authentic populist president with humble beginnings.

Mr Widodo and his wife Iriana after casting their votes in the recent election. Photo from

Points of interaction between the two countries

Two Bali bombings - one in 2002 that killed 242 people and injuring 240 more, and the other in 2005 that killed 20 and injured over 100 - highlight Indonesia's challenge of extremist Islamist groups, and its tourist industry, of which Australians are a key component.

This memorial commemorating the terrorist attacks in 2002 on the tourist island of Bali in which 88 Australians died, has created a shared point of history between the two nations. Photo from

Asylum seeking via boat from Indonesia to Australia is a current bone of contention. Australia has a rather strong detention policy for those who make it to Australian soil. A major flashpoint for this activity is on Christmas Island - Australian territory close to Indonesia.

Asylum seekers arriving in dangerous overloaded boats to Australia's Christmas Island is not something new, nor limited to Indonesians (Vietnamese and other nation's refugees are also seeking Australia's shores). Here Australian coast guard members rescue asylum seekers in a 2001 incident. Photo from

An ever expanding detention center on Christmas Island has been the scene for protests and repeated closure attempts, but the issue and infrastructure remain. Photo from

Christmas Island - the map view, from

So, there are the two nations - lots of differences, issues, but neighbors nonetheless, and democracies to boot, which implies a respect for citizens and responsive governments. Not a bad couple foundation bricks to build on.

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