How much will Bali Nine executions affect Indonesia-Australia ties?

Ade Mardiyati
Tensions are high on social media, but will there be a real fallout if the Bali Nine pair is executed?

 

PROTEST. Indonesians protest in Jakarta on February 25 against Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's linking of the tsunami aid to the fate of the Bali Nine pair on death row. Photo by Gatta Dewabrata/Rappler

 

SYDNEY, Australia – It was around 10:30 pm on Monday, March 2, when a woman hurled balloons filled with red paint at the gate of the Indonesian Consulate in Sydney. 

When the balloons burst, the red paint splattered across the ground. By the light of the morning, they looked like blood stains. 

The message was clear: There is blood on Indonesian hands if Australian drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are executed. 

Police are reportedly searching for the woman, who was seen in CCTV footage wearing light-colored pants, while Indonesian authorities have asked the Australian Federal Police to increase their presence around the embassy premises. 

But “it was a small incident,” State Secretary Pratikno said on Tuesday, according to the Jakarta Post, adding that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had been informed of it. “No need to give too much thought to it.” 

On Indonesians in Australia

The Indonesian embassy has been reminding its citizens in Australia to remain vigilant as tensions increase over the looming executions. 

An Indonesian who works for an Indonesian-owned company in Sydney told Rappler last month they had been “bombarded with inappropriate words” by customers on social media, over the phone, and even in person when they come to the office.

A Balinese said he saw “Boycott Bali” written in chalk outside a club in Wollongong in New South Wales. Underneath it, he wrote back: “No more bogans”, a pejorative term for working class Australians known to frequent Bali and cause trouble. 

“This is a very sensitive issue. All of my Australian colleagues are against the penalty,” another Indonesian woman living and working in Brisbane told Rappler, asking to remain anonymous. 

“However, the Indonesian government should be really firm and uphold justice based on the existing law, and that includes imposing the death penalty in this case.”

But for the most part, Indonesians interviewed by Rappler in Australia say they don’t feel any real impact. 

Online tensions

The heightened tensions appear to have mostly played out on social media, with trending hashtags such as #BoycottBali and #KoinUntukAustralia (coins for Australia) highlighting where netizens from both countries stand on the issue. (READ: Indonesians protest Abbott’s aid reminder, collect coins to repay Australia)

With the transfer of the Bali Nine pair to the execution island on Wednesday, online tensions increased a few notches again. 

Fallout?

But is this all just online? What will the fallout really be if the pair is executed?

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned Indonesia against underestimating the Australian public’s support for the pair, and according to a recent survey by think tank Lowy Institute, 62% of the Australian public say they don’t think Chan and Sukumaran should not be executed.

Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, reportedly told a business breakfast in Perth the looming executions “will impact on many aspects of life, including the diplomatic life”.

One business executive in Australia even criticized the government’s support for the pair, saying it had soured ties with Indonesia.

“Some of the public statements made by our most senior politicians demonstrate that they have a very naive understanding of the importance of Indonesia to Australia,” Peter Lynch, chairman and CEO of coal miner Cokal Ltd, told Reuters.

VIGIL. Australians holding candles during a vigil for "Bali Nine" death row inmates Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan in Sydney on January 29, 2015. Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP

Short-lived impact

But at the same time, media reports suggest there has been no real impact on Australian travel to Bali.  

“A small number might be swayed by the boycott call and decide not to go, but I think that will be over very quickly,” Associate Professor Ritchie told the Sydney Morning Herald.

While many Australians don’t agree with Indonesia’s stance on the death penalty, many also don’t believe that should affect where they vacation. 

Australian citizen Jeffrey Lee, for example, believes the Bali Nine pair deserve a second chance and that the Indonesian government is being a hypocrite since it strives to save its own citizens on death row overseas. 

But he won’t be boycotting Indonesia. “The people who will suffer from the boycott are the hardworking people who make their living out of tourism. Why do you punish them for something they didn’t do?” he said. 

Another Australian, Hannah Luck, said boycotting Indonesia would only be a counterproductive. 

“It is not within our power to change a foreign country’s policy,” she said. “We would be shooting ourselves in the foot.”

An expert on Australia-Indonesia relations, Griffith University adjunct professor Colin Brown, writes that the executions could set back relations, but the impact will probably be short-term, rather than long. (READ: ‘Bali Two’ executions could set back Australia-Indonesia relations

“At the popular level, for a while fewer Australians might holiday in Bali. The government-to-government relationship might be shaken but – again – this would only be a short-term development. There will be some political jostling, but with no major or lasting impact.” – Rappler.com