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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs   24  December 2010

Indonesia-Malaysia have tensions

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More than half of 1,000 Indonesians surveyed in September and October said they did not like Malaysia for a number of reasons.

The findings were released on Thursday by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) just days before Sunday's AFF Cup football final between the two countries.

It found that 59.2 percent of respondents in 100 villages across Indonesia disliked Malaysia, higher than the 46.4 percent who harbored negative views of the United States.

It also found that 67.5 percent of respondents believed that bilateral relations between Indonesia and Malaysia were very poor, thus contributing to the negative sentiment.

Ardian Sopa, the coordinator of the survey, attributed the negative sentiment largely to ill-treatment of Indonesian migrant workers by their Malaysian employers, border spats and Malaysian claims to Indonesian cultural heritage such as batik.

He also pointed to recent incidents that had been played up by the media here, in particular the tit-for-tat arrests of three Indonesian maritime officers by a Malaysian naval patrol, following the arrests of Malaysian fishermen by the Indonesian coast guard.

That incident caused widespread anger across Indonesia, with daily protests in front of the Malaysian Embassy culminating in demonstrators hurling human feces at the building. All of the detainees were eventually released.

Ardian said almost 60 percent of survey respondents were disappointed with the commitment shown by the Indonesian government to resolving bilateral disagreements, and 50 percent believed the government had done nothing toward this end.

"What makes the negative sentiment even worse is the fact that most people think the government is not doing its best to resolve the disputes," he said.

Most of the respondents hostile to Malaysia, he added, were relatively young and earning a good income, while older respondents making less money tended to have fewer problems with the neighboring country.

Another significant finding was that 63 percent of respondents expressed a willingness to go to war to defend Indonesia.

Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law expert at the University of Indonesia, blamed the negative sentiment toward Malaysia on the vastly different mind-sets between residents of the two countries.

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