The current arrest of three Indonesian Ministry of Sea and Fishery officials near Tanjung Pinang water area has once again surfaced the latent conflict between two neighboring nations and brought a rather aggressive demonstration of Indonesians in front of Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta, and several other provinces in the past week. It is important for us to understand that the conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia perceived today is not merely a border conflict which spotlighted in the media coverage lately, rather the unsettlement of water border separating Indonesia and Malaysia is the core and a must-be-resolved issue in the Foreign Ministerial meeting on September 6. The border conflict has magnified and linked to other issues that overshadowing the relation of both nations which shared the common Malay origins, therefore, exacerbating the dimensions of dispute which now reach the problems of nationalism through the burning of Malaysia flag by street protesters in Jakarta and Malaysia Foreign Minister refusal for an apology regarding the arrest followed up by a travel adversary statement.
Recalling the partial settlement over Sipadan and Ligitan islands in 2002 through involvement of International Court of Justice which favored Malaysia argumentation over Indonesia, the issue of border which closely attached to the concept of territorial sovereignty is more sensitive and critical in Indonesia compare to the rather calm reaction in Malaysia citizens’ side. Henceforth, the border issue along with other problems such as well being of Indonesian workers in Malaysia and claim over cultural heritage continues to stress the relations of Indonesia and Malaysia in the past decade.
Territorial dispute, then, shake the nationalism in both countries. But it happened differently. In Indonesia, history of 1963 Ganyang Malaysia revisited in the posters showed by street protesters while the people also projecting their hatred by burning the flag of the Kingdom with 13 federal states. This event tells us that in the critical period, violent nationalism tends to appear in Indonesia through fraction of its people actively organized a protest. Then, however, let’s us not forget about the silent majority of Indonesia who favored peaceful resolutions and still believes in Indonesian diplomacy. On the other side, Malaysia experienced internal problems related to its nation building in the past few years marked in March 2009 by uprising by Indian ethnic lawyers in Putra Jaya. Currently, another term of trial episode for opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is dividing the citizens’ preference for political power. Taking into account those issues, ‘common enemy’ is a promising escape for the status quo to gather supports nationwide and help indirectly address the problems.
Thus, the way Malaysia government sacrificing neighbor relations to Indonesia in favor of internal unity is somehow logic though may not be acceptable to all, especially Indonesia. This is a scene of dilemma of two level game of diplomacy where imbalance policy is made.
In the relations of every state, even in daily basis of people’s lives, there goes saying that ‘Conflict is necessary’. In this case, the significance has altered to the peaceful mechanism to resolve four decade conflict of territory. In order to do so, both states have to bear to separate the conflicts they have and dealing one issue at a time; at this time territorial dispute taken the priority over the next issue of both countries’ citizens in other’s land. The importance of resolving the conflicts, again, has been increasing if both governments also revisited the ASEAN Charter though which Indonesia, Malaysia, and the rest members of ASEAN optimistically staged a goal for one ASEAN Community in 2015. Whatever the outcomes of the Ministerial talk hope to be on September 6, it will have a huge impact toward the visibility of ASEAN (further) integration if it still targeted to be achieved by 2015, five years from now. I hope that both countries not hastily pursue a rather offensive action such as cutting the diplomatic tie by withdrawing its ambassadors. It is just too precarious at this moment.