04 June, 2009

No Real Worries Over Indonesia-Malaysia Relations ?

It usually blows hot and cold in Indonesia-Malaysia ties. And it has turned decidedly chilly here over two issues — a longstanding territorial dispute over Ambalat, off Borneo, and the runaway Indonesian teen wife of a Kelantan prince.

The Indonesian media has been swamped with daily front-page stories and television talkshows about the latest “intrusion” into Ambalat by Malaysian warships, and the teenage model Manohara Odelia Pinot who claimed to have been abused by her husband.

Despite rising tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia, over incursions into Indonesian territorial waters and the high-profile case of Manohara Odelia Pinot, political experts said on Wednesday that strains in the bilateral relationship were nothing to worry about.

Andi Wijayanto, a military expert at the University of Indonesia, said the two countries had a close relationship but it was normal to expect there would be tensions along the way.

“We are two countries that are very similar to each other,” he said, but “even siblings are bound to fight once in a while.”

As neighboring countries with many social and cultural similarities, Andi said that Indonesia and Malaysia were expected to have a harmonious relationship and people were therefore easily dismayed when things went awry.

“We immediately got irritated when Malaysia claimed batik as its culture, but we did not do anything when Japan took our soybean and tofu,” he said.

With the presidential election ahead, Andi said that the strain between the two countries could be used as an issue by the candidates, and no matter how small a problem was, it could always become a trigger that could damage the relationship.

Meanwhile, Malaysia's deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin called for calm amid reports that Malaysian warships had entered oil-rich waters off northeastern Borneo also claimed by Indonesia.

"We want to avoid any form of provocation that can cause unpleasantness. We must handle the matter with caution," said Muhyiddin.

Muhyiddin was also quoted as saying that Malaysia had good relations with Indonesia and that it did not want to cause any problem that could hurt ties.

Seeking to cool a simmering territorial dispute with Malaysia that has boiled over to the presidential campaign trail, Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fast track talks with Kuala Lumpur on a settlement to the Ambalat waters issue.

The two sides have met 13 times since 2005 about conflicting claims of sovereignty over the oil-rich waters off the northeast coast of Borneo Island, but haven’t sat down since April 2008. They are scheduled to meet again in July, said Widodo AS, coordinating minister for political, security and legal affairs.

“The president asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry to speed up its negotiations with Malaysia over the Ambalat issue,” Widodo told reporters after Yudhoyono chaired a meeting of military and security officials at the presidential office.

Widodo said the president discussed various domestic security issues, including two recent intrusions by Malaysian warships into Indonesian waters in the Ambalat area.

While Yudhoyono said the Ambalat issue should be resolved through bilateral talks, Widodo said “Malaysia should respect the ongoing negotiation process and not engage in provocations.”

“We don’t want any acts of violence that can be a disadvantage to all parties and firmly protecting our national sovereignty remains our highest responsibility.”

Indonesian activists yesterday gathered in front of the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta, protesting against the alleged mistreatment of Indonesian workers by Malaysian employers and referencing it to the Ambalat dispute, French news agency Agence France-Presse reported.

Activists protesting in front of the Embassy of Malaysia in South Jakarta on Wednesday. They demanded the Malaysian government address reports of mistreatment and abuse of Indonesian migrant workers in the country and end the confrontation over the disputed Ambalat waters. (Photo: Safir Makki, JG)

The case of 17-year-old Manohara, who at the weekend claimed to have “escaped” from her husband of nine months, the Kelantan prince, also elicited a stream of bad vibes in the local media and the Internet. Many expressed anger at the Malaysians, repeating past contentious issues between both sides.

These include the controversy over what Indonesia sees as Malaysian claims of ownership of the folk song "Rasa Sayang", claims over batik and Javanese mask dance reog ponorogo, as well as alleged abuse of Indonesian workers in Malaysia.



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