Indonesia executions 'unlikely to harm diplomatic ties'

Indonesia executions 'unlikely to harm diplomatic ties'
This combination image of eight file photographs shows the foreign drug convicts on death row in Indonesia. Top row from left: Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, Filipina Mary Jane Veloso and Nigerian Martin Anderson. Bottom row from left: Nigerians Raheem Agbaje Salami, Silvester Obiekwe Nwolise, Brazilian Rodrigo Gularte, and Frenchman Serge Atlaoui.

The executions of eight drug convicts by Indonesia have been condemned by Australia, Brazil and the United Nations.

But while analysts do not expect any long-term damage to diplomatic relations, they say people-to-people ties may suffer.

Relations between Indonesia and Australia range from joint military exercises to bilateral trade. Indonesia accounts for about half of total live cattle exports from Australia.

Two young Australians were among those executed by firing squad on Wednesday.

The Australian government said Andrew Chan, 31, and Myuran Sukumaran, 34 had been reformed during 10 years in an Indonesian prison.

Chan had become a Christian minister and led prayers in prison, while Sukumaran spent time teaching English to fellow inmates.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is withdrawing Australia's ambassador from Jakarta for consultation as soon as the bodies of the two Australians are brought back home for burial today.

Brazil also withdrew its ambassador in January following a first batch of executions, which included a Brazilian. Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff reiterated her protest after Indonesia executed another Brazilian on Wednesday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon also expressed deep regret.

The death penalty "has no place in the 21st century", he said, noting that a record 177 countries in the UN had voted for a moratorium on capital punishment.

Ties between Indonesia and Australia have seen their share of ups and downs in recent years. Dr Leonard C. Sebastian, coordinator of Indonesia programme at Singapore's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said good relations benefit both countries significantly.

"People-to-people links may suffer more than the government-to-government links," he said.

"As the memorial services take place in Australia, this issue will be high-profile in the Australian media, and hence there is likelihood it would have some short-term repercussions for people-to-people links between Australia and Indonesia, particularly affecting sectors like tourism."

Australians comprise the largest number of tourists to Bali, accounting for a quarter of all foreign arrivals. Analysts in Australia have warned that Australia also has much to lose.

The executions have raised concerns in Australia about future ties and Indonesian President Joko Widodo's style of leadership, particularly his said reluctance to engage with Canberra over clemency requests for the drug smugglers.

Chan and Sukumaran had filed a request for presidential clemency but it was turned down without explanation. Indonesian lawyers have criticised Mr Joko's apparent blanket rejection of drug convicts' clemency requests.

"Senior people (are) now asking just how the relationship is going to function under a leader who so brazenly is conducting his foreign relations through the narrow prism of domestic populism, and whether Australia might even need to just wait out Joko as it was forced to wait out Malaysia's former leader Mahathir Mohamad," wrote Fairfax Media national security correspondent David Wroe.

Public policy expert Andrew MacLeod, a visiting professor at King's College London, said Australian diplomatic staff in Indonesia were vital for boosting trade, security ties and providing consular assistance for deaths and emergencies.

"Harsh as it is to say, the Australia-Indonesian relationship is far more important than protest over two dead drug traffickers," he said on The Conversation website.

wahyudis@sph.com.sg jonathanmpearlman@gmail.com


This article was first published on May 1, 2015.
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