8 June 2022
Albo in Indonesia
This week, Anthony Albanese continued the convention that a new Australian PM’s first bilateral visit should be to Indonesia. This ought to be considered one of Australia’s most important relationships and there is an imperative to make the extra effort with Indonesia as no two neighbours are as culturally distinct, making understanding and trust less instinctive.
Yet distinct cultures don’t preclude shared interests. Indonesia’s concern about Chinese activity within its exclusive economic zone that emanates from the Natuna Islands aligns with Australia’s wariness about China’s breaking of maritime norms in a region where much of Australia’s trade traverses. While Indonesia may be less inclined than Australia to use strong rhetoric towards China, Jakarta has been increasing its military presence within the archipelago as a demonstration of its displeasure.
But Indonesia is important in its own regard, beyond concerns about China and maritime security. Given the Albanese government will be more attuned than its predecessor to both the threats and opportunities that are being created by climate change, there is now greater potential for Australia to be a critical partner in Indonesia’s green energy transition.
Indonesia’s projected growth, if it is to be sustainable, will require greater investment in renewable energy. The Albanese government should consider supporting this investment to be a priority, one that could consolidate cooperation between the two countries as Indonesia becomes a more powerful actor in the Indo-Pacific.
China intercepts aircraft
On Sunday, the Australian Department of Defence said in a statement that on 26 May a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) maritime surveillance aircraft conducting routine surveillance had been intercepted by a Chinese plane in international airspace over the South China Sea. The Chinese plane flew dangerously close to the Australian aircraft while releasing flares and aluminium chaff that were ingested into the engines of the Australian aircraft.
The incident is part of China’s ongoing attempt to exert both maritime and air control over the South China Sea – which it believes it has “historic rights” over, although not according to international law. If China’s idea of “historic rights” were to be recognised, this would open multiple cans of worms throughout the world (including on Chinese territory itself). The concept is also highly dubious given that the People’s Republic of China is only seventy-three years old. But, of course, the boldness of the claim is its point.
China has militarised three of the artificial islands it has built in the South China Sea, with these islands now housing anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as lasers used for targeting vessels or aircraft and communications jamming equipment. These installations – along with last month’s aircraft incident – are an attempt to send a message to Australia, as well as the United States, Japan, France and the United Kingdom, that their monitoring of the area is not welcome.
Yet given Australia’s economic interest in maintaining freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, this form of intimidation is unlikely to be successful. Australia’s new defence minister, Richard Marles, has bluntly stated that Australia will continue its legal operations in the area.
Hong Kong and Tiananmen
A heavy police presence patrolled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park over the weekend, seeking to stamp out any attempt to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre of 4 June 1989. Over the past few decades Victoria Park had become the primary site for remembrance of the event, yet in the last three years Hong Kong authorities have banned any public gatherings, aided by the need for social distancing restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This didn’t stop a few brave souls who attempted to mark the occasion, leading to six arrests. Since Beijing enforced Hong Kong’s new national security laws, the alliance that organised the annual vigil has been disbanded, the June 4th Museum closed, and two artworks dedicated to the massacre – Pillar of Shame and Goddess of Democracy – have been removed from their locations at two of Hong Kong’s universities.
Widespread censorship and a tightly controlled school curriculum mean that most young Chinese in the People’s Republic have no knowledge of what occurred in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a post on Facebook encouraging those in China who use a VPN to circumvent the Great Firewall to look up information on Tiananmen Square and “see what their country is hiding from them”.
However, for those in Hong Kong, 4 June is now symbolic of their own democratic suffocation by the Chinese Communist Party. It is a day where wishing to commemorate the stifling of a democratic movement in Beijing risks inviting a similar repressive fate.