In regional push to counter China, new Australian PM to visit Indonesia

Dandy Koswaraputra
2022.06.03
Jakarta
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In regional push to counter China, new Australian PM to visit Indonesia Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) and Foreign Minister Penny Wong attend a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (not pictured), alongside the Quad leaders’ summit, between the United States, Japan, India and Australia, at the Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, May 24, 2022.
[Reuters]

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will travel to neighboring Indonesia this weekend as the new government in Canberra tries to gather regional allies in efforts to counter China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific.

During talks in Jakarta, Albanese and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will discuss trade and investment, as well as bilateral cooperation on climate and energy, the Australian government said.

“We partner together closely on issues of trade, development, education, and regional security,” a news release issued by the PM’s office Friday quoted Albanese as saying.

Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, said the new government was “serious” about its engagement with Southeast Asia.

“We share a fundamental interest in promoting a more prosperous, stable and secure region, where sovereignty is respected,” she said in the same statement.

“Australia’s partnership with Indonesia has never been more consequential to this objective.”

Wong, who will accompany Albanese to Jakarta as part of a five-person delegation, will arrive there fresh off a 10-day official trip to South Pacific island states as well as Indonesia’s tiny neighbor, East Timor, the Associated Press reported.

Santo Darmosumarto, director of East Asia and the Pacific at Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Albanese visiting Jakarta so soon after he became prime minister is a testament to the importance that Australia attaches to ties with Indonesia, its giant neighbor next-door.

“This shows how important the Indonesia-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership is,” Santo told BenarNews.

Nuclear concerns

Santo said Albanese and Indonesian Jokowi would also discuss regional issues such as a security pact between Australia, Britain and the United States, known as AUKUS.

The pact, which was formed last year, allows Canberra to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines from the United States with unlimited and hard-to-detect underwater cruising capabilities.

Indonesia has on several occasions expressed concern that Australia’s move could start a regional arms race.

Last week, Albanese said that at a meeting in Tokyo with the leaders of the U.S., Japan and India, he had talked about engaging more in the Indo-Pacific and to “push our shared values in the region at a time when China was clearly seeking to exert more influence,” news reports said. The four countries make up the so-called Quad group.

“We will stand firm on our values and our beliefs, on what we know will enhance the prosperity and stability of our region and what is firmly in the interests of all those who call the Indo-Pacific home,” he reportedly said.

Albanese would likely try to assure the Indonesian government that his country’s decision to acquire nuclear submarines would not be a threat, according to Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a political analyst at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN).

Australia has insisted that it has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons and will remain a non-nuclear weapons state.

“For Indonesia, the concern is not the alliance per se, but the nuclear acquisition,” Dewi told BenarNews.

“I think the new government will do the same as the previous government did [to reassure Indonesia that the AUKUS is not a threat].”

Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law professor at the University of Indonesia, concurred.

“It is hoped that the PM will explain how AUKUS does not need to be a concern for Indonesia and the region,” Hikmahanto told BenarNews.

Jakarta’s refusal so far to disinvite Russia from the G-20 summit in November in Bali is another issue expected to be raised during the meeting between officials of Australia and Indonesia, David Engel, the head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, wrote in its publication, The Strategist.

“Jokowi will insist on Albanese’s attendance regardless of Putin’s presence and his offenses against international law that Indonesia claims to hold dear,” Engel wrote.

“Much could happen in the interim to engineer an acceptable compromise that would see the summit proceed, however effectively, with its full membership. Albanese’s default position should be to commit Australia’s support for finding and supporting that compromise, in conjunction with like-minded partners such as Japan.”

Trade

Albanese also said he hoped to revitalize the trade relationship between Indonesia and Australia.

He will be accompanied by Trade Minister Don Farrell and Industry Minister Ed Husic during the Indonesia visit, the Australian statement said.

“Especially important will be both sides’ ambition to unlock the potential of the Indonesia‑Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, including to take forward the Government’s proposed AU$200 million climate and infrastructure fund with Indonesia,” the prime minister’s office said.

Under the free trade agreement, which came into effect in July 2020, over 99 percent of Australian goods’ exports by value to Indonesia can enter duty free or under significantly improved preferential arrangements.

It also requires Indonesia to issue import permits automatically and without seasonality for key Australian products such as live cattle, meat and agricultural produce.

The deal allows Australian universities to operate in Indonesia and Australian companies to have greater stakes in sectors such tourism, health and mining.

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