Diplomacy on a bamboo bike . . .
Newly elected Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese landed in Jakarta on Sunday for a two-day diplomatic visit to deepen Indonesia-Australia ties. Australia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister, Penny Wong, also attended. Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo met with Albanese at Bogor Palace – the presidential palace on the outskirts of Jakarta – taking the prime minister on an Indonesian-made bamboo bike ride. During the visit, Albanese pledged C$180 million for infrastructure and climate resilience projects in the archipelago. The leaders also discussed the implementation of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which entered into force in 2020 but got derailed by the pandemic. The trip, only Albanese’s second official visit since winning the Australian general election in May, highlights the importance of Indonesia to Canberra’s new government.
Riding smoothly despite a few broken spokes . . .
Jakarta-Canberra relations, while cordial, have had friction points. Concerns over human rights in West Papua and Canberra's policy of turning away refugee boats seeking asylum have challenged the bilateral relationship. Indonesia has strongly advocated not rocking the boat vis-à-vis Beijing and was alarmed over Australia’s containment stance toward a more assertive China through the trilateral AUKUS pact, which promises to provide Australia with nuclear submarines. Unlike Canberra, Jakarta has also eschewed any strong condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and will still invite Putin to the G20 leaders’ summit that will be held in Indonesia in November. Nonetheless, Albanese has struck a conciliatory tone, confirming his attendance at the G20 summit and offering assistance with Indonesia’s new capital city megaproject.
Gripping the regional handlebars . . .
Aside from revitalizing the trade and investment relationship with Indonesia, Albanese announced plans to engage more with Southeast Asia. The grant committed to Indonesia is part of a larger C$606-million money pot for the region. Penny Wong has also been a long-term advocate for Australia refocusing its foreign policy on Southeast Asia and ASEAN. In addition to meeting the ASEAN secretary-general in Jakarta, Albanese has promised to appoint a high-level envoy to the bloc. Unlike his predecessor, Albanese has recommitted to addressing climate change and supporting the energy transition in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, where unmitigated climate change will hit especially hard. Reaffirming regional ties is part of Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategy of courting friendship with players at the heart of the swiftly transforming region and providing a counter to China’s influence.
- Jakarta Globe: Indonesia, Australia pedal towards stronger bilateral ties
- Nikkei Asia: Australia’s Albanese pledges $480m for ASEAN, Indonesia
- The Sydney Morning Herald: Albanese promises to be ‘more welcoming’ to Indonesians as he pledges stronger ties