A shift in perspective: the fallacy of Indonesia-Malaysia 2009 conflict
Date of Issue2014
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
The amity between Indonesia and Malaysia was once again tested by the consecutive emergence of three contestable issues tn 2009. Interestingly, these disputes only succeeded to incite asymmetrical public reactions from the societies of both countries, with Indonesians were observed to be more outward, articulated, yet harsh in their response compared to the relatively unobtrusive Malaysians. Twisted discourses like "Konfrontasi 2" and "war" also returned to Indonesians' public domain since key figures and the people reused the ideas/words to revive the memory of an earlier conflict, as has been the case whenever the bilateral relationship deteriorates to a certain low point. Contrary to Indonesia's harsh reaction to the issues, which involved months of hostile demonstrations and actions by the public, the governments and militaries of Indonesia and Malaysia did not show any signs of animosity despite the disputes covering wide aspects. This raises the question whether an interstate conflict between two old rivals really occurred in 2009 despite the affirmative claims by local media and key figures. This thesis will argue that the 2009 tension between Indonesia and Malaysia was at a superficial level. I will prove that what members of the public believed to be an 'interstate conflict' between the two countries was actually an invention of the non-state actors in Indonesia who benefited from the escalated tension. Later I will argue that these non-state actors utilized past conflict discourse in Indonesia-Malaysia dynamic to instigate fiery response which fortunately was isolated at population level. Depiction on how they were capable of escalating this tension among Indonesian population will follow suit. I will also portray that the potential further radicalization of these anti-Malaysia non-state actors should be both governments' main concern in the future. This thesis draws strong reference to the Konfrontasi; the original conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia which consequences have reverberated through decades. However, this is not a detailed account and analysis about the Konfrontasi itself but is a conduit that correlates past and contemporary conflicts. Readers will see that the Konfrontasi set up a precedent for future conflicts and subsequently has shaped the mentality and perception of each country's population towards the other. Literatures on Malaysia-Indonesia conflict are abundant but lacking dynamic themes. This endeavor is mainly a contribution to encourage reassessment in utilizing realist approach when discussing Indonesia-Malaysia bilateral relationship. In the short run, this paper aims to enable readers to see through the facade of Indonesia-Malaysia conflict which has dominated our perception for long. Instead of debunking previously published studies on this issue, this research is set to complement these materials by providing new perspective into the conflict dynamic of Indonesia-Malaysia relations.