JAKARTA (Indonesia) -- Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese emphasized the importance of strengthening economic ties with Indonesian neighbors on Monday.
This was Albanese's first overseas trip since his inauguration just two weeks ago.
Albanese stated that the bilateral trade and investment relations are a priority, highlighting their desire to make the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement more effective. They also discussed Australia’s proposed $200 million climate- and infrastructure fund with Indonesia.
Albanese, after meeting with Widodo said that Indonesia, Australia’s nearest major neighbor, is on the right track to become one of five world’s largest economies.
He offered Australian assistance in the design and construction Indonesia's capital, which will be relocated from Jakarta on the island of Borneo. He also promised to provide $470 million additional support for bilateral and regional assistance programs in Southeast Asia within the next four years.
Albanese didn't bring up the controversial issue of the trilateral security accord between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which Joko Widodo (Indonesian President) said could lead to an arms race at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations' virtual meeting last October.
The agreement, known as AUKUS, would allow Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. Some ASEAN countries fear that the agreement could increase tensions in hot areas such as the South China Sea, where China holds the majority. They also warned that the pact could threaten regional stability.
Russia's invasion in Ukraine raised concerns about China's assertiveness within the Indo-Pacific. In March, the Quad group countries Australia and Japan, the U.S. and India declared that they oppose any unilateral use force to alter the status quo.
In a briefing before the visit, Santo Darmosumarto (director of East Asia and Pacific Affairs at Indonesia's Foreign Ministry) stated that his government acknowledges Australia's partnership, including its economic cooperation and people to people relations.
Darmosumarto stated that the IA-CEPA, which was in force in 2020, wasn't implemented properly due to the COVID-19 epidemic despite the fact that trade between the countries increased by about 70% last year.
Albanese arrived in Jakarta Sunday, and was accompanied by Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Trade Minister Don Farrell. Ed Husic, several business leaders, and Ed Husic are also on the three-day trip.
Indonesia is the Chair of the Group of 20 largest economies this year, and ASEAN next year.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that Albanese would be attending the G-20 summit, many people were unsure if Albanese would attend.
Albanese said he would and added, "I will work closely to President Widodo in order to deliver a successful summit."
Albanese also reiterated his commitment at the G-20 meeting in Jakarta this year. He said that it would be the best way to navigate post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Albanese stated that he was focused on sitting with President Widodo and not with President Putin, and added that Australia would be in Australia's best interests to maintain good relations with its Indonesian friends.
According to one expert, Indonesia's strategic significance is greater than the G-20 or ASEAN chairmanships for some Australians.
"Indonesia was always seen as Australia’s strategic gateway -- for good or for worse," said Evan A. Laksmana (senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Jakarta), adding that Australia's relationship with Indonesia has a significant impact on the quality of its relationships with Asia and the rest of the world.
Laksmana stated that "other Southeast Asian countries even sometimes measure Australia's regional engagement through how it manages ties to Indonesia."
Albanese will meet with ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi Monday to discuss Australia’s commitment to Southeast Asia. Albanese will visit Makassar in Indonesia's South Sulawesi Province before returning to Canberra on Tuesday.
The relationship with Indonesia, an archipelago nation of over 270 million people is often portrayed as Australia's most important neighbor and strategic allies. However, there have been many ups and downs. Recent disputes include the allegations that Indonesian Signals Directorate wiretapped Susilo Bambang Yoyono's private calls to check whether he was talking to his wife or other high-ranking officials. Also, Indonesia's capital punishment for drug smugglers from Australia and cases of people smuggling.