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Australian Indonesia Leaders Talks Emphasise Trade and Defence

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo had dinner together on Saturday night at the Turnbull residence and yesterday morning took a walk in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens.

The meeting was held at an auspicious time: there are no irritants in the relationship at the moment.

This was reflected in the fact the leaders announced that defence co-operation between the two countries had been fully restored, terminating the restriction that had been imposed by the Indonesian Chief of Defence Force General Gatot Nurmantyo in January because of certain Australian training materials.

The two leaders also agreed that their countries should work jointly to keep sea lanes in the region open.

Prime Minister Turnbull congratulated Indonesia on its chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

They also agreed to build on initiatives such as fostering greater maritime connectivity within the region, pointing to the Joint Declaration on Maritime Co-operation, negotiated by their respective foreign ministers, which aims at developing stronger maritime security architecture and border security within the region.

The main emphasis of the talks was on closer economic co-operation.

Prime Minister Turnbull and President Widodo agreed to work together to conclude the Indonesia Australia Closer Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) by the end of the year.

The joint statement released yesterday afternoon makes the point that the agreement is more than just a free trade agreement: it covers investment and will support a full partnership between the two countries in areas such as food supply.

The leaders also emphasised the need for co-operation in the area of the arts and culture, signing a declaration on the creative economy designed to promote greater exchanges in these areas.

They also noted the Indonesia – Australia dialogue which encourages interactive exchanges in fields such as business, science, education and media and underlined their importance to closer relations between the two countries.

The establishment of Indonesian language centres in Darwin, Brisbane and Sydney was also seen as significant.

Another major issue raised in the talks was counter-terrorism and security.

Australia and Indonesia have signed a justice agreement designed to govern co-operation over the next five years.

Apart from this there was agreement between the two leaders that there is a need to counter violent extremism and they committed to work together to prevent radicalisation, challenge extremist propaganda and to support multi-cultural multi-faith societies.

The two countries also agreed to work together in the field of cyber-security.

There’s no doubt that the talks were conducted in an atmosphere of cordiality and co-operation.

The question is how far out on a limb Jokowi has gone to establish this rapport and whether he has the support of his fellow ministers and the army.

This in turn puts an onus on Australia to deliver economic benefits for Indonesia.

To some extent the government is hostage to the private sector to which Indonesia is looking for greater investment.

At the same time people to people contacts are growing rapidly: more than 2,000 Australian students have gone to Indonesia on reverse Colombo Plan scholarships since 2014 and many more Indonesian students are coming to study in Australian universities.

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Image – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and President Joko Widodo take time-out from important bilateral meetings in Sydney over the weekend