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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

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President Wahid: The View from Down Under
An interview with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
By AL REYES

October 22, 1999
Web posted at 2:00 p.m. Hong Kong time, 2:00 a.m. EDT


    INTELLIGENCE
Economics 101
The IMF is (still) trying to teach free markets in Indonesia
- Thursday, Oct. 21, 1999

Business: What the markets think of Gus Dur
With Tim Condon, Indonesia specialist
- Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1999

Myanmar-Thailand Relations
Still lousy after all these years
- Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1999

Business: Short Circuits
Is Singapore's Electronics Industry In Turmoil--Or Is It Just In Transition?
- Monday, Oct. 18, 1999

The Week Ahead
Indonesia Chooses Its President
- Monday, Oct. 18, 1999

Business: Japan's Bank Mergers
Another giant is born. Expect more to come
- Saturday, Oct. 16, 1999

iMac, G3, But No G4? Gee...
China's request for Apple's new 'supercomputer' is in the mail
- Friday, Oct. 15, 1999

How Long Will Daim Last?
Malaysia's second-most powerful person could resign by election time
- Thursday, Oct. 14, 1999

D-Days for TRI
For Malaysia's large cellular company, Eurobond deadlines loom. The repercussions could be politically significant
- Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1999

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On Oct. 20, Alexander Downer, Australia's Foreign Minister, attended the World Economic Forum's East Asia Economic Summit in Singapore. Fresh from a visit to Bangkok to discuss regional issues including the situation in East Timor, the pipe-smoking Downer looked relaxed when he met Senior Correspondent Alejandro Reyes in the minister's hotel suite, just minutes after news of the results of the Indonesian presidential elections broke.

Q: What is your reaction to the results of the Indonesian presidential election?
A: We welcome the election of Abdurrahman Wahid and wish him well in the very challenging task he has ahead of him as the president of Indonesia. This is a pivotal time in Indonesia's history and it's important that a real sense of stability return to the country and we wish him well in his attempt to do that. He's well known to many Australians. I've met him from time to time myself. I last saw him in Jakarta when he came to call on me in August, and he has been to Australia on many occasions. He has had close associations with Australians over the years. He's a principled man, a man with a degree of compassion and concern.

Q: Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia has been critical of Australia's role in East Timor. Just yesterday, he called the Australian military "belligerent." Are you disappointed by the Southeast Asian reaction to the East Timor situation and Canberra's involvement?
A: Well, I don't get into personalities. Australia was asked to do the job it's doing and I think most people would judge that Australia is doing the job very effectively and very well. It's a tough job. Australian lives are at risk. It's expensive for Australia financially, but we are prepared to do it because we think that it's important that the issue of East Timor be resolved once and for all. A number of ASEAN countries -- Thailand, Singapore, Philippines -- are making a very strong contribution to INTERFET, as it is called, and we really appreciate the contribution they are making. Around Southeast Asia generally speaking, although there has been criticism in Indonesia and a little bit from some sections of the community in Malaysia, there is a lot of respect for what Australia is doing.

Q: You have spoken about Southeast Asia taking the lead when the UN peacekeeping force takes over?
A: There's going to be a transition from INTERFET to a blue-helmeted United Nations peacekeeping operation. We hope that that will be sooner rather than later. We'd like to feel that it could be at the end of this year or perhaps in January or so next year, but pretty soon. Our expectation is that countries in the region -- not just Southeast Asia and more broadly in the region, perhaps some of the South Asian countries too -- will make a significant contribution to that peacekeeping operation. Australia will continue to contribute, although that contribution will be smaller than our contribution to INTERFET. It will go from around 4,500 troops down to between 1,500 and 2,000. I think it will work well.

Q: Are Australia's relations with Asia now damaged because of East Timor?
A: Not with Asia. On the contrary, the reverse is true. With countries such as Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Japan and Korea, what Australia has done has been very much appreciated. As Prime Minister Chuan [Leekpai] said to me, Thailand and the Thai government very much admire what Australia has done. You can't talk about Asia as some homogenous monolithic whole. It is true that there has been criticism in Indonesia, but this is just using Australia as a scapegoat. But it isn't in our view based on fact. The fact is that the Indonesian government decided that it would allow a referendum, and the referendum produced the result it produced. The fact is the Indonesian government, when security completely broke down in East Timor, asked the international community to come in and help restore security. And that has happened. The international community including Australia has done and is doing the job. So there is no rational basis in our view for such abuse and criticism as comes Australia's way in the Indonesian media. But it will blow over and the media will go onto some other issue, no doubt.

Q: Is there a Howard doctrine?
A: We've never used the expression "Howard doctrine" as a government. It's an expression used by a magazine. The Australian government's position has been and continues to be that we work very closely and very effectively with countries in our region. Like any country on earth, our first priority is dealing with the nations that surround us. We have very deep and strong relations with those nations. We believe that with the end of the Cold War, gone are the days where countries in the region, whichever side of the Cold War they were on, could just signal to Washington or to Moscow that they would like them to come in and fix up some regional problem. The Cold War is finished. Now the region has to be a bit more self-sufficient in addressing regional problems. Although we very much appreciate, in the case of East Timor, the support that Interfet is getting from the U.S., nevertheless it's a regional country, in this case Australia, which has had to take the leading role. We just accept that as a fact of modern life. In the region, that is increasingly understood. Not to diminish the role of the U.S. in the region or to say that we want the U.S. to have a lesser role, but just that inevitably countries in the region are going to have to be more self-sufficient, and the region as a region is going to have to be more self-sufficient in working through its own problems. That's just the way the world is today. I wouldn't call that any doctrine. It's a statement of the obvious.

Q: What is your assessment of President Habibie and how he will go down in history?
A: He will go down quite well internationally but he is probably doomed domestically to the role of [Mikhail] Gorbachev (last leader of the Soviet Union), that is, he was the man who was the midwife of the democratization of the country. People in Indonesia like anywhere else appreciate democracy. But to play the role of the midwife of democracy tends not necessarily to generate great domestic popularity, even though it often generates international popularity.

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