APSN Banner

Next in the high diplomacy stakes: Widodo headed for Australia

Sydney Morning Herald - May 22, 2023

Chris Barrett, Singapore – Indonesia President Joko Widodo is set to make his first visit to Australia in more than three years.

Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, discussed his intentions to travel to Australia in the near future with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the edges of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, according to a statement by Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi.

The visit is scheduled for early July, said Adi Dzulfuat, the director for Pacific and Oceania affairs at the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Widodo was last in Australia in February 2020, addressing a joint sitting of parliament in Canberra.

The annual leaders' meetings between the neighbouring countries were then put on hold during the pandemic until June last year when Albanese, just two weeks after Labor's election victory, headed to Jakarta on his first overseas tour.

The destination and timing of the trip were designed to emphasise the importance of Australia's links with the country and Albanese's get-together with Widodo was characterised as "bamboo diplomacy" after they were pictured riding bamboo bicycles in the grounds of the Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java.

The images and the leaders' commentary indicated the relationship remained on a solid footing despite Indonesia having been blindsided by Australia's announcement in late 2021 that it would acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS deal.

Jakarta has had great reservations about the transfer of a nuclear material to a non-nuclear state and the impact it fears vessels could have in heightening tension in the Indo-Pacific and in accelerating a regional arms race.

One senior politician and member of Indonesia's parliamentary committee overseeing foreign affairs, defence, and intelligence even told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in March that Indonesia should not allow the submarines in its archipelagic sea lanes, saying they "cannot be used for activities related to war or preparation of war or non-peaceful activities".

Experts have pointed out that such a move, if it were taken, would not be in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Amid anxiety among Indonesia's foreign affairs and defence establishment, though, Widodo himself at least has sounded less alarmed in his most recent public remarks on Australia's technology sharing pact with the United States and the United Kingdom and about the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprised of Australia, the US, Japan and India.

"We should view the Quad and AUKUS as partners and not competitors... ASEAN's aim is to make the region a stable and peaceful one," Widodo told Malaysian news outlet New Straits Times before hosting South-East Asian leaders at the ASEAN summit in Labuan Bajo this month.

The groupings have angered Beijing, which regards them as anti-China, formed squarely to contain its rise.

In her daily statement about Widodo's activities at the G7, Retno said Widodo's meeting with Albanese was "discussing the president's plan of visit to Australia in the near future for the annual leaders meeting".

The planned visit also comes with the Australian government having signalled it wants to give more weight to its trade and economic relationship with Indonesia.

Albanese took a delegation of top Australian business figures with him to Jakarta and Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province, last year. Indonesian government and business leaders have also spoken about the upside of more tie-ups including on electric vehicles, given Indonesia's rich nickel reserves and Australia's lithium resources.

As well as Albanese, Widodo met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and other world leaders on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Japan.

He used the outing to call for an end to "monopolistic policies" which he said were relics of colonialism holding back developing countries from exporting products other than raw materials.

"Is it fair that a country rich in natural resources like Indonesia is prevented from enjoying the added value of its natural resources? Prevented from processing their natural resources in the country?" he said.

"I hope the G7 countries can become partners in industry downstreaming... it is time to establish a kind of OPEC [Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] for other products, such as nickel and palm oil."

– With Karuni Rompies

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/next-in-the-high-diplomacy-stakes-widodo-headed-for-australia-20230522-p5da7i.htm