AUSTRALIA has expressed its regret for training material that was deemed offensive by the Indonesian military and ultimately resulted in a suspension of military cooperation between the two nations.
The relationship between these two key allies is highly valuable in policing border control and counter terrorism in both nations. However, tensions have been strained in recent years following the execution of two Australian nationals by Indonesia, and allegations in 2013 that Australian spies tried to tap the phone of then Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The reasons behind the latest spat are unclear but appear to originate from training material found at an Australian base.
The contents of the offending material is disputed. Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne has refused to reveal details, however, Indonesian media reports a number of theories.
One such theory is that the allegedly insulting paper contained words that demeaned Pancasila, a set of principles that mandates belief in one God and unity among Indonesia’s 250 million people.
Whilst other reports detail a poster questioning Indonesian sovereignty over the western half of the island of Papua. This is a controversial issue due to West Papua’s independence movement gaining support from activists within Australia.
Following Wednesday’s suspension, Australia has been scrambling to make amends with their neighbour, promising a thorough investigation that would be concluded “imminently.”
Payne said on Thursday, “We have indicated our regret that this occurred and that offence was taken. I think that’s appropriate when a significant counterpart raises their concerns with you.”
This comes the same day as Australia has been forced to deny accusations that it has tried to “recruit” Indonesia’s best soldiers.
The allegations arose when the ABC broadcast footage Thursday of Indonesia’s military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo voicing fears that Canberra was trying to recruit soldiers sent to Australia for training.
“Every time there is a training programme – like recently – the best five or 10 students would be sent to Australia. That happened before I was chief so I let that happen,” he said in translated remarks, according to the broadcaster.
“Once I became chief commander of the national forces, it did not happen again. They will certainly be recruited. They will certainly be recruited.”
Despite the tensions, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Thursday that relations with Australia remained good.
“I think our relations with Australia remain in a good condition. The problem has to be clarified first at the operational level so the situation will not heat up,” Widodo told reporters.
Given Australia’s controversial immigration policy, in which Indonesia plays a key role, the former is keen to resume the close relationship as soon as possible.
“We are working closely with our counterparts both at the military and at the political level to rectify any concerns, to address any concerns and to resume the relationship in its entirety as soon as possible,” explained Payne.
Additional reporting by Reuters