There is much to read in to what has happened recently in the straying of Australian Navy vessels into Indonesian sovereign waters and the ire this has raised in the officials of their government. From a party that espouses ‘sovereignty’ one would think that they would have it well-understood that any infringement on sovereignty would be at the forefront of their understandings. It appears not to be so.
Where to from here?
Whether the issue of boat-people/arrivals is increasing or decreasing is not the main cause for alarm in terms of the outcome of such a lapse in border security and whether the Australian government is using life-boats to shuttle people to certain locations is also not the issue – notwithstanding, the sympathy any reasonable person must show for the poor distraught souls on board – there is a much bigger element that will come back to haunt Australians. What these farcical and inept actions are achieving is driving the Indonesian government to shift away from seeing Australia as a decent, worthwhile and trustworthy neighbour. And by its own actions Australia is fuelling a shift in allegiances by Indonesia from Australia to elsewhere. What this will and must produce is, as China and India rise – in particular China – Indonesia will use this breach of understandings/s and protocol as a springboard to move out of the current state-of-affairs, that of being a tolerant neighbour of Australia, to viewing Australia as a disruptive, uncaring and dishonest neighbour. It will do so with good reason. This level of disrespect (although it has been followed by an apology from Minister Morrison) will not go unnoticed by future Indonesian governments as a blatant infringement on their rights as a sovereign state; and moreover, it will be used as a reason to favour and to ally with China in the future.
One may also ask, is this an overreaction by the author in terms of over-stating what will be quickly forgotten; and intergovernmental exchanges will continue?
The answer to this is the author believes that it, along with the regional Imperialism shown by Australia for the last half-century, is coming to an end and it is issues such as the one of infringing on Indonesian waters, and the political incompetence shown by Minister Morrison, that is not only hastening the event of Australia’s decline but also encouraging Indonesia to look elsewhere for military allies – and it will be China that comes to fill the gap. This will produce a crisis for Australia not unlike that experienced in the Pacific phase of World War Two (WWII), in terms of Australia beginning to flounder and wondering what it has done to ‘deserve this.’
The answer is that the mismanagement of the asylum-seeker issue by previous governments – though this has reached new heights of mismanagement under the Abbott administration – and the pathway of abject disregard for alternate opinion is fuelling a future set of crises. The situation will be made more volatile by the rise of China and the subsequent ramifications that this will bring. Australians should not forget that just as the post-WWII saw the rise of pax-Americana to replace pax-Britannica, so too will the demise of pax-Americana see the rise of China: pax-Sino. Who then will Indonesia choose as a confidant in the region? And what reasons will it state for favouring China over Australia? Indubitably, the asylum-seeker issue will be high on their list.
To think that China will not demand countries in the region to lay out, for all the world to see, who will be their allies is naïve in the extreme. As in the era of pax-Americana the Americans demanded a visible and public arena of admission regarding their alliances and before them, so too did the British. Why will China be any different? Why would Indonesia not have to declare their alliance to, and with, China?
But of course that would never happen in the sophisticated sphere of twenty-first century world politics where realpolitik is able to be played out without fear or favour, and nations are not necessarily beholden to their past. This sounds good until the reality of adversarial politics comes into play and reasons are needed to separate neighbours: issues such as the treatment of Indonesian policy regarding asylum-seekers and the towing-back of boats in to sovereign waters will come to the fore. This is and will be one of the reasons Indonesia will use to generate favourable policy with a rising China, and it will be to the detriment of Australia.
Why would this happen?
Pax-Sino is a reality that Australia must face — and whether China rises faster or not-as-fast as is being forecast is a non-issue — the fact is China is rising, and will influence geo-politics in the Asia-Pacific region exponentially over the next fifty years. Australia should attempt to circumvent any problematics with its neighbours by seeking to de-escalate regional tensions rather than play into the hands of, and create greater problems, through considered and respectful dialogue rather than the quasi-Imperialist tenets that govern its attitudes in the region in contemporary times. China will adopt and focus its foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific to achieve its goals of putting right what it believes to be a submission to the notion of ‘European superiority’ via the intervention of the nation-state Westphalian system–especially toward the end of the nineteenth century. The Chinese according to Martin Jacques in his book, When China Rules The World, were sublimated and forced to alter their ways. To be sure, ‘The Middle Kingdom became just another state, now with a name, China, like any other. An elite and a people schooled in the idea of their cultural superiority entered a prolonged crisis of doubt, uncertainty and humiliation from which, a century and a half later, they are now only beginning to emerge.’
The Chinese government will pursue, what they believe to be their ‘rightful place’ in the world, and it will be via the Asia-Pacific in the first instance, that this will be played out. A more succinct and perspicacious reason for treating nation-state neighbours, and their sovereign waters, with respect need not be illuminated further as the reasons for a less-Imperial stance in regional machinations are obvious. The Abbott government should be looking to a regional balance in the future. One that does not alienate a neighbour with the (coming) power of Indonesia, which of course doesn’t mean grovelling agreement with all policy. However, the change in regional military power-status is rapidly approaching and Australia needs to be more astute and diplomatic in its dealings with its nearest vastly populated neighbour, or rue the day its (shades of Imperialist) arrogance in dealing with up and coming regional powers reigned supreme