Experts have warned that Australia will need to invest more heavily in boosting cyber security skills and training for Indonesia to avoid an “imminent challenge” of its nearest neighbour turning to China.
According to Dr Dirk van der Kley, a global governance expert from the Australian National University and co-author of the paper titled China Inc. and Indonesia’s Technology Future, Indonesia is an "area of strategic importance that Australia was falling behind on".
"This is not only because [Huawei] provide the hardware but also enormous training at all levels of society from government officials down to rural students," Dr van der Kley said.
In 2020, Chinese tech giant Huawei offered to deliver technology and cyber skills training for up to 100,000 Indonesians, similar programs have also been extended to government officials.
There is a massive information and communications technology skills shortage in Indonesia. According to a new National Security College and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute research paper, Australia's neighbour is one of the "world's most vulnerable countries in the world to cyber crime", and it is considering a partnership with China to close the technology and training gap.
Chinese communications and technology giant, Huawei, has already made major investments in training centres, scholarships and workshops in Indonesia and has offers underway that directs Indonesian graduates to career pathways in the industry.
Dr van der Kley further explains that it is in the interest of Australia and other Quad countries to bolster technology training in Indonesia, enabling it to be less reliant on Chinese infrastructure.
"This is steering Indonesia's current and future tech leaders towards Chinese technology.
"Indonesia holds deep animosity toward China, yet there has been almost no complaints about China's dominant position in telecommunications and cyber.
"This is because rich liberal democracies are not delivering the kind of benefits that Indonesia needs or wants," Dr van der Kley said.
Last month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met with Indonesia's leader, President Joko Widodo, for an official state visit to the archipelago and noting that "boosting ties with the Asian nation was critical", as the nation is on track to rank among the world's top five economies.
"Australia in terms of Indonesia as a trading partner is 13th on our list.
"It should be much higher.
"It is clearly in Australia's interest to boost that investment," Prime Minister Albanese said.
ASPI researcher and China Inc. paper co-author Gatra Priyandita further explained that "Indonesian companies with poor data security saw Chinese cyber firms as a quick fix", noting that Indonesia had wanted more advanced overseas sectors to offer vocational technology training for decades.
"Regardless of China's active ICT agenda in the region, serious short-term vocational training in Indonesia is the right thing to do.
"Partnering on digital skills and capacity building in Indonesia would be a win-win for all.
"So, Australia, and the Quad countries, should do it regardless of their goal of counteracting China's influence," Priyandita concluded.