James Massola, Jakarta – Prime Minister Scott Morrison has discussed free trade, Papua and Indonesia's proposed new capital during a flying visit to Jakarta for President Joko Widodo's inauguration, while also seeking to improve relations with Beijing during a meeting with China's Vice-President.
Joko's second five-year term begins with him damaged by fierce political protests over legal changes that weaken the anti-corruption commission, draconian revisions to the penal code, corruption and environmental scandals and as conservative Islam is increasingly influential in politics.
The President's inauguration was attended by Morrison and other regional leaders including Malaysia's Mahathir Mohamad, Singapore's Lee Hsien Loong and China's Wang Qishan. Joko won re-election with 55 per cent of the popular vote.
Joko and Morrison met for about 15 minutes at the presidential palace on Sunday morning and afterwards, Morrison said he had discussed the Indonesia-Australia free trade deal, counter-terrorism co-operation, the proposed new Indonesian capital on the island of Borneo and the recent deadly riots in Papua and West Papua.
Morrison told Joko ratification of the Indonesia-Australia free trade deal was proceeding smoothly – it is likely by the end of the year – and that "no issues were raised" by the President about it being delayed by the Indonesian Parliament.
Sufmi Dasco Ahmad, the deputy speaker of Indonesia's Parliament, said "we will make sure we'll ratify [the trade deal] in 2019".
On Papua, Morrison said that in all his discussions with Joko "I have found him personally to be someone who has a great passion for Papua and for the living standards and conditions for people in Papua."
"I understand at the recent election he secured over 90 per cent of the vote in Papua, if I could get that in Cook back home I'd be very happy. The point being that he has been there 13 times as President, more than any of his predecessors, and I think that shows a dedication and an ear to the challenges... ultimately it's a matter for the Indonesian government."
Morrison said he and Vice-President Wang had had a discussion that was "inoculated from all of the assessments that are made about the relationship" and he was pleased the discussion had run to close to an hour, nearly double the allotted 30 minutes.
"I simply made the point, which was well received, that Australia is an independent, sovereign nation," he said.
"I came out of the discussions pleased that there is, I think, a very clear understanding of where Australia is coming from, our commitment to the relationship, and I think that's understood by China as well."
Wang stated, twice, that Australia had sought the meeting with China. "We are here for the same reason, and after you proposed to meet with me, the Chinese government attaches very high importance to that proposal and President Xi has approved for me to meet with you."
Morrison is still yet to visit China as Prime Minister and the meeting with Wang comes less than two weeks after Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton criticised the Chinese government for foreign interference, cyber attacks and the theft of intellectual property.
In Joko's first five years, the President has failed to deliver on some promises – including opening up the economy to foreign investment, streamlining labour laws and improving human rights – but he has delivered on his promise to build much-needed infrastructure.
Aaron Connelly, from Singapore's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the President began his second term in a weak position politically because "the factional warlords of Jakarta politics have never liked him much, though they co-operated to ensure he got a second term".
"He seems to be retreating into legacy-building phase. Things like Jakarta and its water problems, he is putting in the too hard column."
Joko is expected to announce a significantly revamped cabinet later this week.
Morrison is the latest in a long line of Australian prime ministers – dating back to John Howard in 2004 – to effectively invite themselves to the inauguration of an Indonesian president.