Australia's HMAS Perth

Photo: Julianne Cropley

Is 'Manis' the sweet deal that brings Australia & Indonesia together?

6 March 2017

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia featured prominently 75 years ago for Australia when our troops deployed and fought there in the Pacific War. We do well to commemorate their efforts and the losses suffered, notably with Indonesian President Joko Widodo visiting Australia last month.

Ever since World War II, Australian security and economic policymakers have appreciated the significance to Australia’s security and prosperity of engaging constructively and respectfully with these countries. With Donald Trump as US President and China’s assertiveness adding to regional uncertainty, Australia would be wise to look at new ways to sweeten regional ties, while mindful of the past.

For nearly 50 years, Australia and New Zealand have partnered with Malaysia and Singapore, as well as the United Kingdom, in the Five Power Defence Arrangements. On one level, the arrangements are an anachronism – a hangover from the sunset of the British Empire. Yet the participating nations have found it to have enduring utility. It facilitates multilateral regional military engagement and cross-pollination of ideas, practices and experiences in a non-threatening way.

At times, when bilateral ties have strained, the five-power collaboration has proceeded largely unhindered by surrounding political storms. When, for instance, Malaysia and Australia had a falling out when then prime minister Paul Keating’s labelled his Malaysian counterpart Mahathir Mohamad as a “recalcitrant”, security ties embodied in the arrangements continued uninterrupted.

Today, economic ties have never been stronger. Security ties remain robust, too: Australian military ships and aircraft routinely operate in and through Malaysian and Singaporean air and seaports. Australian maritime surveillance flights across the South China Sea routinely include Malaysian military personnel. The Integrated Area Defence System, based in Malaysia with a senior Australian officer in charge, plays an important role in facilitating close but largely unheralded engagement between these long-standing security partners.

Read the full/original article by Professor John Blaxland in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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