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Yudhoyono flattered but Australia-Indonesia woes remain

Publication Date : 05-06-2014


While praising his host, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, as a great statesman and a true friend of his country, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has apparently chosen to wait for the new Indonesian president before reaching substantial agreements on such sensitive issues as intelligence gathering and boat people, which have rocked relations between the two countries since Abbott’s election last year.

Yudhoyono himself was clearly satisified with the readiness of the Australian leader to meet him on Batam Island, located a few kilometres from Singapore.

In a joint press conference after their meeting on Wednesday afternoon, Yudhoyono did not allude to the fact that his demand for Australia to sign a code of conduct (CoC) with Indonesia would not be realised before he ended his 10 years in office in October this year.

“I’ve just had a meeting with the Australian prime minister that was productive and constructive. We discussed methods to maintain and improve cooperation and partnership between the two countries as we move toward a future based on respect,” Yudhoyono told reporters before having dinner with his guest.

Relations between the two countries nose-dived shortly after Abbott’s Conservative Party-led coalition won the election in September last year defeating the incumbent Labor Party, whose governments have traditionally been favored by Indonesia. One of Abbott’s policies that Indonesia found irksome was his determination to take a much tougher stance against undocumented migrants trying to enter Australia by boat through Indonesian waters.

However, it was the media reports in November that Australia had spied on Yudhoyono, First Lady Ani Yudhoyono and several top officials that outraged the President. He suspended military and police cooperation with Australia and also recalled the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema. The ambassador returned to Canberra a few weeks ago and was at Batam to receive Abbott at Hang Nadim International Airport on Wednesday.

“Of course one of our important subjects of discussion was the efforts of Indonesia and Australia regarding the issue which disrupted our relationship in 2013; the problem of the bugging. We hope it will never happen again,” said Yudhoyono.

“The two foreign ministers have continued to discuss the issue of proposing a code of conduct in the near future so that the process of improving cooperation can be implemented smoothly,” Yudhoyono noted.

He also reminded the nation of the importance of Australia to Indonesia with one million Australian tourists visiting Indonesia, particularly Bali, every year, while 150,000 Indonesian students were enrolled at educational establishments in that country.

Abbott said that despite a couple of issues that had damaged Jakarta-Canberra ties, he was confident they were well on the way to a satisfactory and successful resolution.

“One of the great things about this relationship is that on those rare occasions when there are problems, we talk them through. We speak candidly to each other, and that’s exactly what’s happened between myself and [the] President today,” he added.

Abbott also heaped praise on Yudhoyono, calling him the “senior statesman” of Southeast Asia, a “great president” and a “good friend”.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa indicated his dissatisfaction with Australia’s failure to respond to the draft CoC proposed by Indonesia.

When asked about the dateline for the CoC, since the current government would end in October, Natalegawa responded that he would do his best to finalise it and noted that the most important thing was ensuring the CoC protected Indonesian national interests. “The point is no more spying by one government on the other.”


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