Aussie-Indonesia military ties restored

Indonesia's President Joko inspecting a guard of honour during his welcome to Australia yesterday. He told the media that a "robust relationship" between the countries is possible when both "have respect for each other's territorial integrity, non-in
Indonesia's President Joko inspecting a guard of honour during his welcome to Australia yesterday. He told the media that a "robust relationship" between the countries is possible when both "have respect for each other's territorial integrity, non-interference in the domestic affairs of each other and the ability to develop a mutually beneficial partnership".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Mr Joko and Mr Turnbull sharing a lighter moment yesterday. The two leaders resolved to expand maritime cooperation, among other things.
Mr Joko and Mr Turnbull sharing a lighter moment yesterday. The two leaders resolved to expand maritime cooperation, among other things.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Jokowi, Turnbull to also press ahead with plans for free trade deal by end of year

Australia and Indonesia yesterday restored full military ties after their leaders agreed to move beyond a recent dispute, and pointedly vowed to respect "each other's territorial integrity".

Making his first state visit to Australia, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull resolved to expand maritime cooperation and press ahead with plans to complete a free trade agreement by the end of the year. The maritime deal will focus on cooperation over border protection and illegal fishing.

Mr Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, also declared an end to the partial suspension of military cooperation with Australia.

The suspension followed a dispute last month over "insulting" materials found at a base in Perth where Indonesian troops were training. The materials reportedly touched on sensitive subjects such as West Papuan independence.

Addressing the media in Sydney, Mr Joko said a "robust relationship" between the countries "can be established when both countries have respect for each other's territorial integrity, non-interference in the domestic affairs of each other and the ability to develop a mutually beneficial partnership".

COMMON INTERESTS

We are both vibrant democracies that stand for mutual respect and diversity. As maritime nations and trading nations, Australia and Indonesia are natural partners with common interests.

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL

For his part, Mr Turnbull said he had assured President Joko of Australia's "commitment to Indonesia's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

The dispute over the training materials was the latest hiccup in the often fitful relations between the two neighbours.

However, despite frequent diplomatic missteps and misunderstandings - including recent concerns about Australia's tough approach to migrants and Indonesia's execution of Australian drug smugglers - military relations have typically been one of the closest areas of cooperation.

Both leaders appeared keen yesterday to signal that the episode will not disrupt future cooperation.

Mr Turnbull made it clear that Australia recognised Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua, saying he and Mr Joko agreed to "the full restoration of defence cooperation, training exchanges and activities".

He also said cooperation on counterterrorism would continue, including joint efforts against the threat from fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.

"We are both vibrant democracies that stand for mutual respect and diversity," he said. "As maritime nations and trading nations, Australia and Indonesia are natural partners with common interests."

The two leaders had dinner at Mr Turnbull's private waterside home in Sydney on Saturday night. Yesterday morning, they strolled through the Botanic Gardens as well as held meetings at the Prime Minister's official residence.

Despite Mr Joko signalling before his visit that he would raise the possibility of joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, the two leaders made no direct mention of it in their public statements.

A joint communique called for continuing "freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea".

Most analysts said relations between the countries were in good shape, with some describing the dispute over the training materials as a "storm in a teacup".

An analyst at the Lowy Institute, Mr Aaron Connelly, said before the visit that coordinated military cooperation in the South China Sea was unlikely but increased diplomatic coordination was possible.

He said some Indonesian officials were "sceptical of being seen as too closely aligned with the United States or one of its major allies".

Mr Joko left Australia last night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Aussie-Indonesia military ties restored'. Print Edition | Subscribe