Australia and Indonesia are ‘equal stakeholders in a common future’
INDONESIA and Australia have come a long way in more than 60 years of diplomatic relations. As Indonesia celebrates the 69th anniversary of its independence this week and welcomes a new leadership, it is timely to revisit the formulation of Indonesia-Australia relations.
Independence Day serves as an ever-present reminder of the struggles of the founders of the nation who fought bravely for Indonesia’s independence. It also reminds Indonesians of the support extended by Australia to the young republic in the 1940s, which established a bond of friendship and foundation of relations between the two countries.
The bilateral relations have experienced some ups and downs, some generational changes and some political eras. The recent unfortunate developments should serve as reminders for both countries that the relationship should never be taken for granted. It should be patiently nurtured. These issues also remind the two countries of the importance of mutual trust and respect, which are key to a robust and durable relationship.
Those who have kept abreast of the election in Indonesia will better understand that despite all the dynamics, the election has been successfully conducted in a democratic and transparent manner. It proved once again that democracy has firmly taken root in Indonesia — the third-largest democracy in the world. It also confirmed the continuity of the transformation Indonesia has undergone since 1998.
Once a country on the brink of disintegration, now Indonesia is stronger and more united. Once a country near economic bankruptcy, Indonesia today is the world’s 16th-largest economy and a member of the G20. With a large middle class and a young workforce, many have predicted that Indonesia’s economy is set to grow even larger.
Bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia have a strategic value. The past decade has witnessed strong ties covering various levels and areas under the framework of the Lombok Treaty and the Comprehensive Partnership.
Bilateral trade last year registered $11.2?billion, with the prospect of further expansion as the two countries negotiate the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership. As the two economies continue to expand, opportunities are there for two-way investment in areas such as infrastructure, agriculture, mining and services. Moreover, the two countries can work together to play a greater role in the global supply chain. Undoubtedly, the stronger the economic connectivity established, the stronger bilateral relations will be.
The people-to-people links, including through education, are key in promoting mutual understanding. Australia is home to more than 17,000 Indonesian students. In this regard, Indonesia welcomes the New Colombo Plan — an initiative by the Australian government to promote Asian literacy among Australian youths through education and work experience in Asia, including Indonesia.
Working closely together, both countries have made important contributions to the region and beyond. Indonesia’s role as a passage for Australia to be part of the Asian Century will be particularly relevant. As Australia’s closest neighbour, Indonesia welcomes Australia’s commitment to build stronger ties with Asia. Indonesia and Australia are not just neighbours; we are friends and strategic partners. The message is very clear and simple: Australia and Indonesia have a great future together. We are equal stakeholders in a common future, with much to gain if we get this relationship right, and much to lose if we get it wrong.
The leadership transition in Indonesia in a few months’ time is an important moment for the two countries to reset the relationship towards a closer friendship and stronger partnership based on mutual trust, shared interests and goals. That relationship covers government-to-government, business-to-business and people-to-people links.
The recent situation has served as a learning process to make the relationship more mature and stronger. The long history of Indonesia-Australia relations has proven that, while differences and problems can arise from time to time, Indonesia and Australia have always managed to get through the challenges and even rebuild a stronger and more mature relationship. Indonesia and Australia should move forward to resolve any issues that have distracted the good relations and find opportunities for greater co-operation to ensure the common benefits and interests. There is no option for Indonesia and Australia other than to be good friends and equal partners.
Nadjib Riphat Kesoema is the Indonesian ambassador.