Two Australian broadcast correspondents traveling on the White House press plane were refused entry here last night moments before President Reagan arrived for a visit on which he is celebrating the supposed spread of political and economic freedom in Southeast Asia.
The refusal to admit the Australians and the expulsion of New York Times correspondent Barbara Crossette dominated the opening briefings here, where President Reagan will meet with Indonesian President Suharto and foreign ministers of the six-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, asked how these actions reflected on Reagan's theme that "the winds of freedom" are blowing in Southeast Asia, said: "The winds are still blowing, but there are some people who didn't like the wind. We are not against press freedom, but we don't necessarily like it. When a hurricane hits you, you don't have to like the wind."
Mochtar said he hoped that the incidents did not "cast a pall" over Reagan's visit and he praised the president as "a champion of free trade."
An article by Crossette in the Asian edition of yesterday's International Herald Tribune, headlined "Remote Suharto Rules With Sultan's Air," was blacked out by censors here. A sheet of white paper was pasted over the article on page 5 of each newspaper.
In New York, A. M. Rosenthal, executive editor of the Times, called the detention and expulsion of Crossette "a clear violation not only of freedom of the press but of any accepted standard of conduct."
"Coming at a time when the president of the United States is arriving in that country, the action also shows disdain for American institutions," he said.
The two correspondents for the Australian Broadcasting Commission were taken into custody by Indonesian security officials and put on a plane for Tokyo. The Indonesians rejected the request of U.S. officials that the Australians be allowed to cover the visit here of Reagan.
When the press plane arrived here, the Indonesians refused to allow anyone to depart until the two Australians, Richard Palfreyman and James Middleton, had come forward and identified themselves.
In a holding room inside the terminal, White House deputy press secretary Edward P. Djerejian made a final plea that the Australians be allowed to stay, saying that the U.S. position was that all correspondents accompanying the president should be allowed into the countries he visits.
According to Djerejian, an Indonesia security official replied: "The decision has been made. There is no change."
Indonesia refused entry to the Australians because of an April 10 article in the Sydney Morning Herald alleging corruption in the Indonesian government. It said Suharto's relatives and business associates had enriched themselves because of government favoritism.
The sensitivity of Indonesia, which has a government-controlled press, to any criticism has proved a visible political embarrassment to the Reagan administration. In a speech last week in Washington, the president proclaimed that the "winds of freedom" were blowing throughout the world.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that "winds of freedom," a phrase Reagan used eight times in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, would be the principal theme of the president's 13-day Pacific trip, which will conclude with participation in the economic summit meeting in Tokyo.
"We'd have to acknowledge that the Indonesians haven't helped the 'winds of freedom' theme very much," said a senior White House official who spoke on condition that he not be identified.
Reagan has continued to insist in his speeches that political freedom is tightly linked to economic growth, even though many countries in the region that have performed well economically have limited political liberty.