Australia and Indonesia Agree to Restore Full Military Ties

  • Jokowi meets with Turnbull on first visit to Australia
  • Tariffs to be cut in free-trade deal by end of the year

Indonesia President Joko Widodo, left, walks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney on February 26, 2017.

Photographer: David Moir/AFP via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko Widodo agreed to restore full military cooperation at a meeting between the two leaders in Sydney on Sunday.

Indonesia moved to suspend all military partnerships between the two countries last month, citing technical issues. Australia’s Defense Minister Marise Payne said that concerns were raised in late 2016 by an Indonesian national armed forces officer over teaching materials and remarks at an army language training facility in Australia.

“President Widodo and I have agreed to the full restoration of defense cooperation, training exchanges and activities,” Turnbull said in a joint statement from the leaders.

Widodo, also known as Jokowi, is on his first visit to Australia. He and Turnbull agreed to enhance maritime cooperation between the countries. “I’ve assured the president of Australia’s commitment to Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Turnbull said.

Jokowi said a “robust relationship” can be established between Australia and Indonesia “when both countries have mutual 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.”

Jokowi and Turnbull are seeking to strike a balance between China -- a major trading partner for both, and the U.S., which has for decades been the dominant military presence in Asia.

While Indonesia has sought to stay neutral in disputes between its neighbors and China over the nearby South China Sea, it’s become increasingly cautious over Chinese expansion in the region.

Incursions by Chinese fishing boats and its coast guard, along with public comments by senior Chinese officials about access to waters near the gas-rich Natuna Islands, prompted Jokowi to tell a Sydney newspaper in November that the islands are “our territory” and there would be “no compromise on sovereignty.”

Tariffs Cut

Australia and Indonesia are in talks for a comprehensive economic partnership to cut tariffs and promote trade, which Turnbull and Jokowi said they expect to be completed by the end of the year.

The two leaders announced Indonesia will lower tariffs on Australian sugar to 5 percent, while Australia will eliminate tariffs on pesticides and herbicides coming from Indonesian suppliers.

Jokowi said he discussed “key issues” on trade with Turnbull, including removal of barriers and tariffs on Indonesian products such as paper and palm oil.

“The potential for us to expand our economic relationship is very clear,” Turnbull said. “We are both committed to concluding a high-quality, bilateral free-trade agreement, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership, by the end of this year.”

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