[My name is Henry Acland. Previously, I have written an article for Scoop comparing the East Timor international intervention with the regional intervention in the Solomon Islands. I am currently the director of Width, a startup that is structured to facilitate trade within the Asia-Pacific region: www.width.net]
As usual Dr. Buchanan (see… The Tsunami’s Political Victims (and how it swamped al-Qaeda).) has provided an open and frank comment of a potential shift in international relations relative to an individual nation or a grouping of nations’ donations in aid. Aid, he is implying, equals influence, and therefore Australia and the United States have done very well. Indeed, they could have done so well that a ‘tectonic’ shift in international relations (in their favour) may well be occurring in the region. Buchanan’s reading of the situation is highly intelligent and to the point. However, we should be careful in giving America praise too early, after all aid may be used counter-productively. It is the devastated region of Aceh that is particularly significant in this regard. America and Australia should take heed from how they managed the East Timor conflict during the Cold War. They would now be wise to refrain from too heavily supporting the Indonesian military in Aceh. This may mean keeping a tight check to see if aid money is going to the right places or lining the military’s pockets so it can better fight the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).
The Indonesian state since its inception has been a volatile beast and should be treated with great care. In the case of East Timor, American and Australia might have been better positioned today if they had not been so complicit in the Indonesian invasion and subsequent veiled occupation. Yet, because the United States and Australia supported Indonesia only then to contradict their stance by moving against Indonesia in 1999 by backing East Timor’s independence, they have been seen - and still are - by many in Indonesia as hypocrites. Consequently, their somewhat schizoid behaviour damaged relations with Indonesia to the extend that around the turn of this century Wahid, then President of Indonesia, declared a Jihad on Australian peacekeepers. The country that got the best outcome from the Timor saga, aside from the country itself, is China. East Timor now calls China its closest ally. Yet, it was not China that gave East Timor its independence rather it was more because of US and Australian action. China was more careful. It did not get as close to Indonesia while it waged its ‘dirty war little war’. Unlike the US and Australia it has offended neither the East Timorese or the Indonesians. America and Australia have managed to insult both.
If we compare Aceh to East Timor, we may understand that it would be counter-productive in the long term for America and Australia to pour aid money that inadvertently furthers the Indonesian military’s intentions to eradicate GAM. If East Timor is anything to go by, the war will be extremely gruesome and may well end in victory to GAM. So could America and Australia be better served to adopt a slightly more neutral position that would promote compromise rather than conflict? It could mean rebuilding Aceh into a functioning semi-autonomous region that would still be connected to Jakarta but would also have an element self-control.