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East Timor, Australia, and Indonesia
journal contributionposted on 2000-01-01, 00:00 authored by Scott BurchillScott Burchill
For over twenty years Australia has recognized the legitimacy of Indonesia's illegal and brutal occupation of East Timor. The decisive influence of the Jakarta lobby, a group of bureaucrats, academics, politicians, and journalists, ensured that 'good relations' between Australia and Indonesia were maintained despite Jakarta's egregious human rights record in the territory. A distorted history of Suharto's rise to power, de jure recognition of Indonesia's sovereignty in East Timor, a secretly negotiated security agreement, and strident opposition to East Timor's independence were indicative of the Jakarta lobby's success in framing Australian foreign policy. However, after encouraging the Habibie government to resolve the East Timor issue in late 1998, the Howard government subsequently committed itself to supporting a UN-sponsored ballot in August 1999, when the East Timorese were given a choice of independence or continued integration with the Republic of Indonesia. The escalation of violence orchestrated by the Indonesian military and their militia proxies in response to an overwhelming vote for independence shocked the international community and encouraged the Howard government to organize and lead a UN-sanctioned multilateral peace enforcement mission in East Timor. The success of this deployment in pacifying the territory led to the departure of Indonesian forces from East Timor and the formal revoking of Indonesia's sovereign claim to the territory. It also signaled a break with past Australian diplomatic orthodoxy towards Indonesia and the declining influence of the Jakarta lobby on Australian public policy.