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US mily presence in darwin arouses suspicion in many quarters

23rd November 2011 | 3.452 Views
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - US President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard reportedly assured President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonp in separate meetings in Bali recently that the planned deployment of US troops in Darwin spelled no harm to Indonesia or the South East Asian region.

However, Obama`s and Gillard`s assurances have failed to convince some legislators and political observers in Indonesia, which is located only around 820 km (500 miles) from Darwin, Australia, where the US has decided to set up a military presence.

Shortly before flying to Bali to attend the Sixth East Asian Summit on November 17-18, President Obama announced in Canberra, that the US military would expand its role in the Asia-Pacific region despite budget cuts, declaring America was "here to stay" as a Pacific power which would help shape the region`s future, Reuters reported.

"As we end today`s wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority," Obama said in a major speech on Washington`s vision for the Asia-Pacific region.

The US would begin its military outreach in Southeast Asia by deploying marines, naval ships and aircraft in northern Australia starting in 2012. The process would be gradually intensified until the US would have a 2,500-strong task force in Darwin by 2016.

The move is seen as an effort to counter China`s growing might and reflects Obama`s eagerness to reassert the United States` influence and power in the region, The New York Times reported.

In response to the press questions, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in Bali, on November 17 that ASEAN member countries were not disturbed or feeling threatened by the decision of the United States to station 2,500 marines in Darwin.

"This must not be seen as something disturbing," Marty told journalists at the venue of the Summits also attended by Obama and Gillard, along with the leaders of China, Japan, Korea and Australia.

Indonesia also did not feel threatened by the development and would not get trapped in "the stream of perceptions that would lead us into considering the development as a threat."

In his previous remarks to the media on November 16, however, Marty said that ASEAN would not allow the Southeast Asian region to be used by major or strong countries to compete with each other in serving their own interests.

"ASEAN will never let Southeast Asia become an arena of rivalry among the countries that call themselves strong," he said.

He was also quoted as saying: "What I would hate to see is if such developments are to provoke a reaction and counter-reaction precisely to create a vicious circle of tension and mistrust or distrust."

Marty does have a reason to be worried. Hikmahanto Juwana, an international relations observer, warned the government not to consider the US military buildup plan in Darwin a trivial matter.

According to him, US policies often change depending on which party is the ruling one. The US government`s constantly changing policies could be analyzed and become a reference for the Indonesian government in responding to the presence of US marines in Australia, he said.

He cited the East Timor (now Timur Leste) case as an example. "When Gerald Ford of the Republican Party led the country, the US government seemed to accept the idea of Indonesia `entering` East Timor. But when a Democrat was in power, Indonesia came under heavy pressure for allegedly using violence and violating human rights in East Timor," he said.

When George W Bush of the Republican Party was president, he hunted down and offered a reward for the arrest of Umar Patek, a terror suspect.

But under Obama of the Democrat Party, the US was reluctant to extradite Umar Patek when he was arrested by the Pakistani authorities.

The government must be critical and not view the US marines` deployment lightly, he said, adding that he regretted the statement made by a senior government official that the US marines` presence in Australia had nothing to do with Papua.

"Such a statement is premature, and ignores the constellation of both US political and economic interests," he said.

"Economically, for instance, the purchase of 230 Boeing planes by Lion Air was so important to the US that President Obama witnessed it. The presence of Obama was to show that he was successful in creating new job opportunities for Americans. The deal was obviously serving the US interest," he said.

Therefore, he said, the government must always be careful and critical in responding to the US military presence in Australia, particularly due to the dynamism of current events in Papua and their possible consequences in the future.

Military Commander Admiral Agus Suhartono previously said the planned US marine deployment in Darwin had nothing to do with Papua and will not affect Indonesia`s sovereignty because the marines would mainly deal with natural disasters.

"It has nothing to do with the security situation in Papua, nor with an effort to protect Freeport," Admiral Agus Suhartono said.

America`s gold and copper mining PT Freeport operating in Papua, Indonesia`s eastern most province, has lately been disturbed by shooting incidents perpetrated by unidentified armed groups and a prolonged strike by employees demanding better welfare.

He added the deployment of the US marines would not change Indonesia`s defense policy because the policy was designed to deal with external threats within the limits of the state`s financial capacity.

House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Marzuki Alie did not buy the pretext that the US military base was meant to anticipate possible natural disasters in ASEAN member countries.

Major disasters forcing countries in the region to ask for other countries` help did not happen frequently or perhaps once in ten years, he noted, adding the natural disaster pretext was inappropriate.

"We really do not know what hidden agenda the US has in setting up a military base there but Indonesia must be careful," he said.

He also believed that the presence of a US military base in Australia would definitely affect the stability the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) had been nurturing in the region.

"The ASEAN region which has been relatively stable so far, will undoubtedly be disturbed by the US military presence there," Marzuki said in Jakarta on November 22, 2011. Tuesday.

"This is an international issue. The foreign affairs ministry should ask (the US embassy) for an assurance or guarantee that the military base will not change the situation in ASEAN which has so far been stable, safe and peaceful," he said.

Syahfan Badri Sampurno, a member of the DPR`s Commission I shared Marzuki`s view that the US military presence in Darwin, may threaten stability in the South East Asian region.

He even suspected that the US military presence was related to the US interest in PT Freeport in natural resource-rich Papua.

Setting up a military base in a region which has so far been quite stable is something strange , according to the legislator.

"It`s obvious the base is to serve a US interest, and Indonesia as well as other ASEAN member countries must reject it," he said.

He urged the House Speaker to take a stance and ask President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to voice Indonesia`s objections.

There was suspicion the US preparedness to provide Indonesia with two F-16 fighter squadrons as a grant was to silence Indonesia, he said, adding the F-16 grant appeared not to be a "free lunch." .

"In almost every country where a US military base is set up, security stability is threatened and it is the people who suffer most," he said, adding that Indonesia should feel threatened by the presence of a US military base in Darwin.

He also regretted that Australia, as a close neighbor of Indonesia had not been considerate enough. He said Australia often made diplomatic moves that ignored Indonesian sensibilities even though it shared a maritime border with Indonesia.

Shafan said he intended to urge the House`s Commission I to ask for the foreign affairs minister`s explanations on the government`s official stance on the matter.

"In that forum, we will ask the government to oppose the presence of the US military base and respond to this situation with firm measures," he said.

In response to growing concern that the latest movement of the US in the Pacific region might cause tensions, especially between countries involved in the South China Sea dispute, US Ambassador for cooperation with ASEAN David Carden told the press the planned US military presence in Australia would be for humanitarian missions.

"The US has been a treaty ally with Australia for 60 years. I think it has been clearly stated why we have deployed many soldiers in Australia because there`s an opportunity for disaster responses in the region, that our soldiers are expected to help during the post-disaster period. I don`t believe that there is reason why people should feel concerned about this," he said at the US embassy in Jakarta on November 22, 2011.

But suspicions continue to be publicly expressed. Welem Wetan Songa, an international political observer in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) Province, which shares direct maritime border with Australia, suspected the US military presence in Darwin, had something to do with the US interest in Indonesia`s natural resources, particularly in mineral resources in the Timor Sea.

"The bilateral agreement signed by Australia and the US is just a pretext, and I am sure that the United States has an interest in the mineral resources in Timor Sea waters and other natural resources in Indonesia," Songa said in Kupang, November 23, 2011.

A similar view was voiced by DW Tadeus from Nusa Cendana University also in Kupang.

"Apart from protecting the political and security stability in the ASEAN region, the US has an interest in oil reserves in the Timor Sea in view of its future needs after failing to conquer oil-rich countries in the Middle East," Tadeus said.