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Indonesia: Shadowy hands, shady dealings

Written by: (Contributed) on 6 March 2024


A carefully worded high-level diplomatic statement recently released from Canberra regarding regional trade organisation has revealed how Australia has followed US-led initiatives to undermine ASEAN in favour of the OECD.

Fears exist that ASEAN has proved ineffective at confronting China's regional influence.

The statement appears to show how US-led regional diplomacy has pushed hard against the BRICs, with other considerations played down to avoid unnecessary publicity and controversy.

The announcement that the OECD has been willing to accept Indonesia as a full member was greeted with enthusiasm from Canberra. (1) The sprawling 38 member countries, largely from the advanced, industrial west, appeared to accept Indonesia on the basis that it was an emerging economy destined to become 'an advanced economy by 2045'. (2) While the country has had involvement with the OECD from 2007, the move toward full membership has important implications. The fact that China has remained Indonesia's largest trading partner has not caused undue concern, at the present time.

Behind the scenes, however, the shadowy hands of those well-placed in Canberra has been duly noted.

The present OECD secretary-general, Mathias Cormann, has remained a well-placed Australian Liberal Party member from the National Right faction; a former senator from 2007-20, he was also finance minister, spanning the three successive administrations of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison in Canberra. (3) In fact, it was Morrison who actually nominated Cormann for the elite OECD position in lavish display of patronage. (4)

The patronage chain linked to Morrison has also included his membership of the board of the so-called International Democrat Union (IDU), which has been aligned with the 'intolerant far right', linked to pro-Trump political groups in the US. (5) The IDU has had a long-time involvement with the Australian Liberal Party and their coalition 'friends'; John Howard was chair of the organisation for more than a decade, while serving as Australian Prime Minister. (6) The period was marked by a particular sycophancy toward the US with his nearly every political move.

In recent times a major push has taken place from Canberra to establish more amenable diplomatic relations with Indonesia, largely due to its geo-strategic position in the neighbouring region. Allegations of war-crimes by leading Indonesian political and military figures, particularly in East Timor and West Papua, have been played down.

Indonesia, historically, has also been more closely associated with ASEAN, an important regional trade body composed of neighbouring countries. In recent times, however, concern has been raised about the continued usefulness of ASEAN for US-led regional diplomacy. Its member countries all retain important trade links with China, and they have little time for choosing either side in the rising diplomatic hostilities between the US and China. They have vested interests in maintaining the present diplomatic status quo.

Indonesia, therefore, has been taken by the OECD as a test-case; it is an important part of Australia's defence and security concerns and Canberra has noted 'it will also have a ripple effect through other countries across South-east Asia in terms of encouraging a greater alignment to OECD standards at a time when China seeks to assert its influence throughout the region'. (7)

Indonesia has also chosen not to apply for membership of the BRICS trade body last year, which came with a sigh of relief from Canberra. The BRICS, composed of China, Russia, and other strategically-placed countries has in recent years dramatically expanded its diplomatic influence across emerging economies. At its Pretoria Summit last year, the BRICS began high-level diplomatic discussions with the Palestinians and called for a State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as the capital. (8) Australia clearly did not want a BRICs member country geographically close in the neighbouring region.

While the BRICs initiative enhanced the diplomatic standing of the Palestinians, it met with complete silence from the West. There was no official media coverage, which was duly noted with interest.

It is, therefore, revealing to also note the recent Canberra diplomatic statement included three references to Israel, and concerns raised by Tel Aviv about Indonesia's support for the Palestinian people. The OECD leadership, nevertheless, appear to have provided encouragement for Indonesia to join the trade body. It was noted, for example, that Cormann was the 'driving force behind getting the other 38 OECD member nations on board. This wasn't easy. Israel was staunchly opposed'. (9)    

What relevance this political chicanery has in connection with developments which took place on 7 October and afterwards has yet to be accurately clarified and established.

1.     See: Jakarta in a nickle pickle amid its bid for OECD membership, and, Talks signal a key shift towards the West, Australian, 22 February 2024.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Wikipedia: Mathias Cormann.
4.     Ibid.
5.     See: Scott Morrison signs on, The New Daily, 14 September 2022.
6.     Ibid.
7.     Australian, op.cit., 22 February 2024.
8.     BRICS Summit, Pretoria, WAFA News Agency, 20 July 2023.  
9.     Australian, op.cit., 22 February 2024.


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