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Jakarta. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said on Wednesday that he was determined to settle all disputes with Malaysia through diplomatic channels, drawing criticism he was not acting firmly enough against Indonesia’s closest neighbor.
Speaking after a fast-breaking meal at military headquarters in Cilangkap, East Jakarta, Yudhoyono said there were many factors to consider in dealing with disputes with Malaysia, including the fact that more than two million Indonesians earned their living there.
He also highlighted the $1.2 billion that Malaysian companies had invested in Indonesia in the past five years, the 1.18 million Malaysians who visited Indonesia each year and bilateral trade of $11.4 billion last year as reasons for wanting to maintain good diplomatic relations.
“Realizing the joint interest between us, the Malaysian prime minister and I often communicate with each other, besides annual consultation forums that we attend, to ensure that bilateral issues can be managed and we can find the best ways to settle them,” Yudhoyono said.
He said he had asked the Malaysian government to investigate the alleged mistreatment of three Indonesian maritime officers, whose brief arrest last month by Malaysian authorities sparked the latest tensions.
The president also addressed allegations that Jakarta had buckled by giving up seven Malaysian fishermen arrested for poaching in exchange for the officers’ release, saying that returning arrested fishermen was common policy among Asean countries.
Yudhoyono said he had reminded Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that similar problems could only be avoided if maritime borders were clearly delineated. “Indonesia will keep pushing Malaysia to settle the talks dealing with the maritime border,” he said.
However, Andreas Hugo Pareira, an Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) defence spokesman, said Yudhoyono’s speech fell short of the reaction expected by most Indonesians, whom he said wanted the president to outline “firm and clear diplomatic steps that would have a deterrent effect on Malaysia in future relations.”
“The president’s speech showed his fear of Malaysia’s superiority, and that Indonesia is really dependent on Malaysia,” Andreas said. “It’s far from the firm attitude we expect from our leader, the head of a nation whose self-esteem has been hurt.”
Meanwhile, Choirul Anam, from the Human Rights Watch Group, said the president should have called on the Malaysian government to pay serious attention to the “injustices and inhumanity” frequently faced by Indonesian migrant workers.
Many Indonesian migrant workers experience inhumane treatment in Malaysian jails, he said.
“The lack of attention to law enforcement and justice shows that the president’s speech didn’t address the real substance of the problem,” Choirul said.
However, Military Chief Gen. Djoko Santoso said Yudhoyono’s speech was a firm signal for the military not to get involved.
At the House of Representatives, Deputy Speaker Pramono Anung, from the PDI-P, confirmed that a petition to question the government over its perceived mishandling of the maritime dispute had begun making the rounds.
The so-called interpellation was first raised by Golkar.
Golkar’s Priyo Budi Santoso, another deputy House speaker, said the move would “show Malaysia that we are serious.”
Tensions have been inflamed by protests from the fringe ultranationalist People’s Democratic Defense (Bendera), which hurled human feces at the Malaysian Embassy and smeared it on the nation’s flag.