What’s at stake as Australia’s Albanese visits Indonesia? | Politics News

Medan, Indonesia – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong will visit Jakarta on Sunday in a sign that the country’s newly elected Labor government wants to breathe new life into Australia’s relationship with its neighbour. closest.

It is hoped that Wong, who was born in Malaysia, will be instrumental in ushering in a new era of Indonesia-Australia relations.

Ian Wilson, lecturer in political and security studies at Murdoch University in Perth, told Al Jazeera: “So far the signals seem to be positive and Penny Wong will be looking at the area seriously. “There seems to be a genuine interest in strategically restoring the relationship.”

Historically, relations between Indonesia and Australia have been tumultuous, with analysts telling Al Jazeera that Labor governments, such as those led by Prime Minister Paul Keating in the early 1990s 1990s, often pursuing deeper ties to the region than did governments from the Liberal National coalition under prime ministers such as Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott.

Athiqah Nur Alami, head of the Center for Political Studies at the Indonesian National Agency for Research and Innovation (BRIN), told Al Jazeera: “The relationship between Indonesia and Australia has turned hot and cold over the years. .

“It’s like a roller coaster, sometimes you scream and sometimes you laugh.”

What is the plan in Indonesia?

Australia’s 31st Prime Minister will visit Indonesia from June 5-7 and is scheduled to meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, on June 6.

In a tweet ahead of the visit, Albanese said he spoke to Jokowi by phone and “looks forward to continuing to discuss the ongoing partnership between our nations, including revitalizing it.” our commercial relationship”.

The two sides are expected to discuss the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), to be signed in 2020.

Alami said that the two countries are “neighbors that must work together”, and told Al Jazeera that, while the IA-CEPA is a comprehensive agreement based on four pillars of concern including economy, people, security maritime security and cooperation, “there is still room for improvement”, especially in relation to trade.

Albanese is expected to bring some of her new ministers with her on the trip, and Wong will meet her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Sunday.

At a press conference with the media in Jakarta on Thursday, Indonesia’s foreign ministry’s director for East Asia and Pacific, Santo Darmosumarto, said it was the tradition of new Australian prime ministers to come to power to make Indonesia the one of their first abroad. access times.

“It looks like Prime Minister Albanese will continue the tradition,” he said.

What is the current relationship status?

Indonesia is Australia’s largest neighbour, and while Jakarta lies more than 5,000 km (310 mi) west of Canberra, the nearest part of the archipelago is only a few hundred kilometers from the tip of Western Australia.

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the country represents “one of Australia’s most important bilateral relationships”. “.

According to Alami, Albanese’s trip can be taken as a signal that he intends to seriously reconsider the relationship. Jokowi herself appears committed to a strong relationship with Canberra, having visited Australia four times since 2014, according to DFAT.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo shakes hands with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 20, 2019.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo shakes hands with then-Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia on October 20, 2019 [File: Willy Kurniawan/ Reuters]

Mr Alami said the two countries had good cooperation in areas including maritime security, military training and education, but noted that Indonesia trades with Australia less than with its Southeast Asian neighbours: Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

“We have to show that we are serious about entering the market,” she said.

Indonesia is also hosting this year’s G20 summit, to be held in Bali in November. Australia will be among the Asia Pacific nations attending in a year of disagreement over its involvement. Russia as a result of the invasion of Ukraine.

“This is another important layer in their relationship,” added Alami.

Why were past relationships difficult?

While the two countries share commercial and security interests, the relationship has at times fractured.

“Under the Liberal National government, we have seen diplomatic loopholes and general negligence, and a self-serving and awkward relationship,” said Wilson of Murdoch University. “According to Labor, it is hoped that we will see a major reset in which we will prioritize the relationship.”

In 2013, relations soured when several media organizations reported that the Australian Signals Directorate had been trying to spy on the private phone calls of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, wife of Kristiani Herwati. and other high-ranking Indonesian officials.

The diplomatic rift between the two countries re-emerged in 2015 when Indonesia prepared to execute Australian citizens Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan after they were found guilty of masterminding a nine-man drug trafficking ring that attempted to transport them. 8.3 kg of heroin from the Indonesian island of Bali. to Australia in 2005.

The Australian government had been lobbying to spare the men’s lives, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to the aid Australia sent to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami – estimated at $1 billion. Australia ($780 million) – and implied that the country owes Australia. for financial assistance.

Then in January 2021, Australia was disappointed after Indonesia announced it would Free Muslim preacher Abu Bakar Bashir out of prison because he had finished his prison term.

Morrison, then prime minister, called the release “sorrowful” for the families of those who died in the Bali bombings.

“Sometimes it’s not a fair world,” he said.

Bashir is the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the hardline group behind the 2002 bombings that killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians.

Can security concerns bring the two countries closer together?

In recent years, China has become increasingly assertive in the disputed South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely.

It has also reached out to Australia’s traditional allies in the Pacific, creating alarm in Canberra, where relations with Beijing have deteriorated over a range of issues – from criticism of the protests to China’s pressure in Hong Kong and Xinjiang to the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

Neither Australia nor Indonesia have claims in the South China Sea, but both governments are closely monitoring developments there.

The waterway is of strategic and economic importance – one third of the world’s shipping passes through the seas each year – and Indonesia, as an archipelago, has always had concerns about the security of its waters. me.

China’s claim that the waters around the Natuna Islands, within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, are part of its “traditional fishing grounds” have also sparked anger in Jakarta.

However, while Indonesia and Australia have historically found common ground on a number of security issues – working together on issues such as human trafficking, intelligence cooperation and counter-terrorism – Jakarta prides itself on its The long-cherished “non-alignment” status. has traditionally sought to take the middle route with the larger world powers.

It has been shown that – despite pressure from other members of the group – that it will invite the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to the G20 Summit despite Ukraine’s aggression. To assuage its criticism, Jakarta has also extended its invitation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has indicated that he will attend via video link.

Some believe that Indonesia’s approach could be an asset to Canberra.

“Indonesia can help reduce militarization and friction between China and Australia,” Wilson said.

These differences over China’s approach to growing power have caused some contradictions.

Last September, tensions flared up after Australia, Britain and the US announced a tripartite security agreement known as AUKUS, under which Australia would buy nuclear-powered submarines.

Jakarta was among a number of countries expressing concern about the deal, and Morrison’s planned visit to Jakarta was cancelled.

When Widodo and Morrison finally met – at a virtual meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – the Indonesian president “repeatedly and forcefully” raised concerns about the AUKUS agreement, according to Australian media.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry also criticized Australia for what it called “a continuing arms race” in the region.

Asked on Thursday whether AUKUS would be discussed during Albanese’s visit, the Foreign Ministry Darmosumarto said that Indonesia was aiming to diversify its relationship with Australia by focusing on different topics such as previously mentioned topics.

“Indonesia has found that the aspect of cooperation with Australia, which previously focused only on defense and security, now covers other issues, including economic cooperation and people-to-people exchanges, which are inherently inherent,” he said. seem to dominate cooperation between the two countries”.

What about cultural and educational constraints?

During the 1980s and 1990s, Bahasa Indonesia was more widely taught in Australian schools and universities.

But in recent decades, fewer and fewer Australians have learned the language.

“This visit is a really good thing to reinforce in the cultural consciousness the importance of the Indonesia-Australia relationship. The fact that this visit is the first [official trip overseas as Prime Minister] should not be overlooked,” Liam Prince, director of the Australian Association for Indonesian Studies“In-Country” (ACICIS) told Al Jazeera. Albanese’s first trip abroad to the Quad Summit in Tokyo was planned by the previous government.

“I hope professionally. There is a lot of optimism and dreams about what could happen.”

According to DFAT, the Australia Awards program has provided more than 11,500 scholarships to Indonesians to study at university level in Australia since 1953, with more than 17,000 Indonesians studying at Australian institutions by 2020.

However, Alami, who completed her postgraduate course in Canberra, says that while Indonesians see Australia as a good place to study due to the wide range of scholarship opportunities, Australian students may not feel it enthusiasm for Indonesia.

“Indonesia is one of the largest democracies in the world, but some Australians don’t even know that it is a democracy,” she said.

However, Indonesia remains one of the most popular destinations for students under the New Colombo Plan – an Australian government initiative to encourage young Australians to study and do internships in the Asia-Pacific region. Binh Duong. Since 2014, more than 10,700 scholarships and grants for students to study and enjoy work experience in Indonesia have been awarded, according to DFAT.

Prince said that if he had a “wish list” regarding education relations between Indonesia and Australia under the new Labor government, it would be to maintain New Colombo and scale it up, while at the same time. provides funding for the teaching of Indonesian at school level in Australia.

He talked about Albanese’s visit to Jakarta.

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