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Australia says Indonesian stability not assured

Reuters - August 28, 1997 (abridged)

Sydney – Political stability and continued economic liberalisation are not assured in Indonesia over the next 15 years due to the country's leadership transition after President Suharto, according to a major Australian foreign policy paper.

The paper, entitled "In The National Interest" and released on Thursday, sets out Australia's foreign and trade policy into the next century and assesses political, economic and security concerns in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia said its most important bilateral ties would be with the United States, China, Japan and Indonesia, and with the booming east Asian economies determining its economic future.

The conservative government said foreign policy would focus on pragmatic benefits for Australia, such as jobs and trade, with the "national interest" the driving force.

"We have produced a practical, hard-headed, results-oriented foreign and trade document," said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, adding Australia would focus on bilateral rather than multilateral diplomacy.

Indonesia had enjoyed two decades of growth and social change which had fostered a wide-ranging, substantial relationship between the two countries, the paper said.

But it added the bilateral relationship would require "careful management as Indonesia faces a leadership transition."

"In these circumstances, continuing economic liberalisation, political stability and continuity in foreign policy are not necessarily assured over the next 15 years...," the paper said.

However, a senior official told Reuters this was not a negative assessment of Indonesia.

"Policy continuity is not necessarily assured over the next 15 years. Now, that is not a judgment that policy continuity is in any way at risk from our point of view," said the official.

"We are making a fairly commonsense observation that none of these things are guaranteed." Indonesia was rocked by violence during the May national parliamentary elections. The 76-year-old Suharto, who came to office in 1968, is expected to seek a seventh five-year term in next year's presidential election.

Australia said the strategic balance of power in the region was "positive," but that it could change direction if the booming Asian economies faltered or if there was a significant deterioration in U.S.-China-Japan relations.