Indonesia open to idea of Australia as full Asean member

Indonesian President Joko Widodo will reportedly have a private dinner at Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's harbourside home during his visit to Sydney for a special summit of Asean leaders.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo will reportedly have a private dinner at Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's harbourside home during his visit to Sydney for a special summit of Asean leaders.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo wants Australia to become a full member of Asean, signalling on Friday (March 16) he is keen on Canberra playing a bigger regional role in defence, trade and security matters.

His comments come with Australia hosting a special summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) leaders in Sydney, as China increasingly flexes its muscle and the threat of violent extremism grows.

"I think it's a good idea," Mr Widodo told the Sydney Morning Herald, referring to Australia joining Asean - the first time an Indonesian president has endorsed the concept.

"Because our region will be better, (for) stability, economic stability, and also political stability. Sure, it will be better."

Australia has been a dialogue partner of Asean, which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, since 1974.

They began biennial leaders' summits in 2016, with the first in Vientiane.

In a report last month, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute argued that Canberra should aim for Asean membership by 2024 - its 50th anniversary of being a partner - and use the Sydney summit as a launch pad.

"As the geo-strategic and geo-economic pressures build in Asia, Asean, as a middle-power grouping, needs the extra middle-power heft offered by Australia and New Zealand," it said.

"The Sydney summit is the moment to launch the long conversation about Australia joining Asean."

When asked about it on Friday during a joint press conference with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the sidelines of the 3rd Singapore-Australia Leaders' Summit, Mr Turnbull said that Australia is "really honoured and touched by the warmth of these remarks", but added: "Asean matters are a matter for Asean."

"We have the greatest of respect for Asean, the way it reaches its own conclusions. We are a dialogue partner with Asean and we work closely with Asean and we respect the centrality of Asean and its significance and fundamental central importance in our region."

 

Mr Widodo, who will reportedly have a private dinner at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's harbourside home during his visit, singled out close co-operation with Canberra on counter-terrorism.

He said he regularly spoke on the phone with Turnbull to resolve issues such as the threat posed by Islamic extremists who last year seized the Philippines city of Marawi.

"We have good co-operation on Marawi, not only with Australia but also with Malaysia, with the Philippines, with Brunei," he said.

"You know that no country is invulnerable from terrorism or extremism." Countering the threat of violent extremism and ways to choke terrorist financing are key themes of the Sydney summit.

The warming of ties between Indonesia and Australia follows a period of rocky relations due to Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers and Canberra's policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia.

Additonal reporting by Yasmine Yahya