Indonesia had planned to include Australia on an expanded list of countries with visa-free entry, but eventually excluded it from the list. Tourism Minister Arief Yahya denied Monday the decision to drop Australia from the list had anything to do with heightened tensions over the imminent executions of Australian citizens Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, ringleaders of the Bali Nine group sentenced to death for drug trafficking.
Yahya said it was merely an issue of reciprocity. "If we give visa-free travel to Australia, we have to be given the same thing," Yahya said, according to Reuters. "It cannot be that we give it to them first.” He added Indonesia was open to reinstating Australia on the list of visa-free entry countries. “I can guarantee that if the Australian government wants [to agree to visa-free travel], that the foreign minister and president will almost definitely want it too.”
Indonesia has prepared a list of 45 countries, mostly Asian and European, for which the visa requirement would be waived to attract more foreign tourists. China, Russia, South Korea and Japan have already been approved or were on their way to approval. Currently, tourists from 15 countries, mostly in Southeast Asia, are eligible to enter and remain in Indonesia without a visa for 30 days. Australia is on a list of 62 countries whose travelers may apply for a visa on arrival at major entry points and pay a $35 fee. “For Australians, the visa on arrival is enough,” said Indroyono Soesilo, coordinating maritime affairs minister, according to the Jakarta Post.
An unnamed high-ranking ministry official, however, suggested the reason for dropping Australia from the list was politically motivated. “Giving free visas to Australians may bring more detriment than benefit,” the official said, according to the Jakarta Post. “Besides, Bali would still be their favorite destination anyway. I don’t think a visa on arrival fee of around US$35 would be a burden for any Australian tourist,” the official said.
Bali is a popular tourist destination among Australians, who accounted for 12 percent of foreigners visiting Indonesia in 2014. This made them the third largest group after Singaporeans and Malaysians, Reuters reported. The decision to execute Chan and Sukumaran sparked backlash in Australia last month, including a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #BoycottBali.
Chan and Sukumaran were arrested for smuggling heroin in 2005, and the Australian government has been trying to rescue them. The Indonesian government has rejected offers to swap prisoners, and has threatened to unleash a “human tsunami” of refugees on Australia if provocations persist.