Subject: Suharto patronising to Australia: Downer


Leaders Remember Suharto

Suharto patronising to Australia: Downer

Former Indonesian president Suharto was patronising towards Australia but understood the importance of maintaining cordial relations, former foreign minister Alexander Downer says.

Suharto, who ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for more than three decades, died on Sunday aged 86.

Mr Downer said on Monday he had found Suharto to be a proud man with a somewhat dismissive attitude towards Australia.

"He certainly took a rather regal and, if you like, patronising view of Australia but on the other hand he did understand it was important to have a constructive relationship with Australia," Mr Downer told ABC radio.

"He wasn't a bad thing for Australia in a lot of ways."

Mr Downer first met the former dictator in 1996 after being appointed foreign minister in the Howard government.

"I went to Jakarta and I had a half-hour meeting set aside with President Suharto, who ... had been close to Paul Keating and the former Labor government," he said.

"He spent most of the meeting - about the full half hour - giving me a lecture on the principles of pancasila which ... underlined the philosophy of the Indonesian state."

Suharto's poor human rights record was a black mark against his name, Mr Downer said, and under his rule the East Timor issue could never be resolved.

"We certainly, as had the Keating and Hawke governments before us, made the point to president Suharto directly and the Indonesian government about human rights issues," Mr Downer said.

"We were plagued - not just our government but the previous government - with the issue of East Timor and, of course, President Suharto will have to live with that as part of his record.

"We wanted to resolve that issue. I don't think it could ever have been properly resolved for as long as president Suharto remained in office."

However, Mr Downer said Suharto had been far less hostile towards Australia than his predecessor, Sukarno, and Canberra and Jakarta had successfully negotiated a defined maritime boundary during Suharto's time at the helm.

"He was well disposed towards Australia, albeit somewhat patronising about Australia," Mr Downer said.

"I think he saw Australia as a smallish country without a great deal of clout, which of course is wrong.

"But nevertheless he thought Australia important and wanted that good relationship."

Mr Downer praised Suharto's strategic understanding of South-east Asia.

"He was certainly greedy, he was certainly a dictator, he certainly had a poor human rights record," Mr Downer said.

"But on the other hand there was much more to president Suharto than that. He certainly had a very clear vision of Indonesia's role in South-east Asia and in east Asia generally.

"He understood the dynamics of the Cold War, he was very anti-communist.

"He was, even beyond the Cold War, somebody who I think understood the strategic dynamics of South-east Asia exceptionally well."

Brought to you by AAP


Leaders Remember Suharto

By BEN STOCKING – 1 hour ago

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) ­ Asia-Pacific leaders recalled the late Indonesian dictator Suharto's strengths on Sunday, praising him for modernizing his country and promoting regional unity ­ despite his deeply flawed human rights record.

The U.S. also offered its "sincere condolences" on the death of Suharto, a Cold War ally whose 32 years of brutal rule saw up to a million political opponents killed. Suharto died of multiple organ failure Sunday at age 86.

Suharto was praised for his role in building the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, the 10-country bloc that has increased the region's influence in global politics.

"As one of the founding fathers of ASEAN, President Suharto was among those who had the pioneering vision of establishing a more peaceful, progressive and prosperous Southeast Asian region founded on respect and understanding," Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a statement from Dubai, where she was travelling Sunday.

Arroyo also said Suharto played a key role in helping negotiate a peace pact between the Philippines government and the Moro National Liberation Front, a Muslim rebel group in the volatile southern region of Mindanao.

"The Filipino people join me in offering deepest sympathies and condolences on the demise of former President Suharto," Arroyo said.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recalled Suharto as an "influential leader" who presided over the world's fourth most populous country, and its largest Islamic nation, during critical times.

"Until the catastrophic Asian financial crisis of 1997, he oversaw a period of significant economic growth and modernization at a time when Indonesia faced fundamental political, social and economic challenges," Rudd said.

"The former president was also a controversial figure in respect of human rights and East Timor and many have disagreed with his approach," he added.

More than 180,000 people died in East Timor between 1974 and 1999 during an Indonesian occupation under Suharto.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi paid tribute to Suharto for working to bolster ties between their two countries.

"We very much appreciate the good relations that have been spearheaded by Pak Harto," Abdullah said, using a respectful nickname for the late leader. "This relationship has brought many benefits to our two nations."

Susan Stahl, a spokewoman for the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, said "We express our sincere condolences on the death of President Suharto. He led Indonesia for over 30 years, a period during which Indonesia achieved remarkable economic and social development."

A procession of regional leaders, including several of Suharto's contemporaries, came to visit him after he was hospitalized on Jan. 4.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was going to Jakarta on Sunday evening to pay his final respects to Suharto, the Singapore foreign ministry said.

"We are saddened by the news of the passing of former Indonesian President Suharto," the ministry said.

Suharto was vilified as one of the world's most brutal rulers and was accused of overseeing a graft-ridden rule.

But some have noted Suharto also oversaw decades of economic expansion that made Indonesia the envy of the developing world. Today, nearly a quarter of Indonesians live in poverty, and many long for the Suharto era's stability, when fuel and rice were affordable.

Poor health ­ and continuing corruption, critics charge ­ kept him from court after he was chased from office by widespread unrest at the peak of the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

With its court system paralyzed by corruption, Indonesia has not confronted its bloody past. Some members of the political elite consistently called for charges against Suharto to be dropped on humanitarian grounds.

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