The government of both Korea and Indonesia are desperately trying to contain the repercussions of a botched break-in by National Intelligence Service agents into the hotel room of a visiting high-level Indonesian delegation. A senior Foreign Ministry official approached reporters on Tuesday and asked them to refrain from covering the debacle, saying, "Please ask yourselves what extensive coverage of this incident can benefit the national interest."
Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, Hatta Rajasa, who was part of the delegation, told the Jakarta Post the incident had nothing to do with the Korean government. He said the three "presumably Asian intruders" were actually hotel guests who walked into the wrong room. "Instead of entering room 1961, the guests unintentionally entered room 2061, where an Industry Ministry official was staying," Hatta was quoted as saying.
The Indonesian account is identical to the official line the NIS gave at first. The NIS' reasons are clear, but why is Indonesia playing along?
◆ Successful Talks
Indonesian officials were apparently hugely satisfied with the outcome of a meeting between Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and his Korean counterpart Kim Kwan-jin on Feb. 15. At the working level, the sale of Korea's T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer jets to Indonesia was apparently agreed.
A government source said, "After the meeting, the Indonesian defense minister said that he gained tremendous confidence in Korea's defense industry." The two countries agreed that higher-ranking military officers will hold talks about defense procurement and sign a memorandum of understanding in September to seal the agreement.
◆ Fear of Souring Relations
Indonesia may have decided that it has more to gain by maintaining close ties with Korea, which is its sixth-largest trading partner. In 2007, it exported US$9.1 billion worth of goods to Korea and imported $5.7 billion worth of Korean products, resulting in a $3.4 billion trade surplus. Indonesia has already bought Korean-made amphibious landing vehicles, armored personnel carriers and communications equipment. In 2001, Indonesia bought 12 Korean-made KT-1 basic trainer jets, while Korea purchased eight CN-235 transport planes from Indonesia.
"Indonesia buys more defense products for its Navy than its Air Force," said a defense industry insider. "And Jakarta wants cooperation with Korea because of its advanced shipbuilding skills."
◆ Close Ties Between Leaders
President Lee Myung-bak and his Indonesian counterpart Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono get on so well that they refer to each other as "brothers." That close relationship probably played a key role in containing the embarrassing incident.
When the Indonesian delegation visited Korea, Lee let them use his official airplane and Air Force helicopters to visit a new harbor in Busan. Demonstrating the close relationship and Indonesia's desire to seek Korea's economic cooperation, Yudhoyono recently even gave Lee a copy of Indonesia's classified economic development plan.