Australia, Indonesia restore full military ties after spat, see progress on trade

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (right) gestures as he speaks as Indonesia President Joko Widodo looks on during a media conference in the gardens of Kirribilli House in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on Feb 26, 2017.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (right) gestures as he speaks as Indonesia President Joko Widodo looks on during a media conference in the gardens of Kirribilli House in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, on Feb 26, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia and Indonesia said on Sunday (Feb 26) that full military ties between the two countries had been restored, after Indonesia's military suspended cooperation in January because of "insulting" teaching material found at an Australian base.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made the announcement alongside Indonesian President Joko Widodo, who arrived in Australia on Saturday for his first visit as president.

"President Widodo and I have agreed to full restoration of defence cooperation, training exchanges and activities," Turnbull said at a news conference in Sydney.

Widodo's visit to Australia comes less than two months after military ties were suspended, an event that sparked a minor diplomatic spat and led to an apology from Australia's army chief in February.

Military cooperation between the two countries has ranged from joint training and counterterrorism cooperation to border protection.

 
 

The "insulting" material suggested that Indonesia's Papua province should be independent and mocked the nation's state ideology.

Indonesia and Australia have a history of patchy ties, but both leaders were keen on Sunday to emphasise their commitment to a strong relationship.

"That robust relationship can be established when both countries have respect for each other's territorial integrity, non-interference into the domestic affairs of each other and the ability to develop a mutually beneficial partnership," Widodo said.

While the primary focus of the visit was on security and economic issues, including the finalisation of a bilateral free trade deal by the end of the year, talks touched on tourism, cyber security and social links.

Widodo met Australian business leaders on Saturday, telling them that investor confidence in Indonesia was strong and reassuring them that Indonesia was a stable country in which to do business.

Following one-on-one talks, Turnbull said tariffs would be cut for Australian sugar and Indonesian pesticides and herbicides. He also praised changes to the export rules for live Australian cattle.

Widodo told The Australian newspaper this week he would like to see joint patrols with Australia in the South China Sea if they did not further inflame tensions with China.

China - which claims almost the entire sea region - irked Indonesia last year by saying the two countries had "overlapping claims" to waters close to them, an area Indonesia calls the Natuna Sea.

The leaders stopped short of announcing joint patrols on Sunday, but stressed the importance of resolving disputes peacefully and in accordance to international law.

"As maritime nations and trading nations, Australia and Indonesia are natural partners with common interests," Turnbull said.

Collaboration on counterterrorism, especially the return of foreign fighters from the Syrian and Iraq conflict zone, would continue, Turnbull said.