JAKARTA: Australia’s new prime minister and Indonesia’s president rode bamboo bicycles together on Monday as they held talks to boost ties, as Canberra embarks on a diplomatic charm offensive aimed at countering China’s growing assertiveness in the region. Anthony Albanese hailed relations with Indonesia and vowed to strengthen them on his first bilateral trip since being elected last month, heading to Southeast Asia’s biggest economy in what has become a traditional tour for new Australian premiers.
After a guard of honour, Indonesian President Joko Widodo presented Albanese with a bicycle at the presidential palace in Bogor-a city south of capital Jakarta-where the pair removed their jackets, donned helmets and rode around the grounds. “Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is one of our most important. We are linked not just by geography, we are linked by choice,” Albanese said in a joint press conference held after talks.
“Our relationship is ever-deepened by the strategic and economic interests we share,” he added, saying Indonesia was on course to become one of the five biggest economies in the world. Widodo said good relations between the two would contribute to “the peace and prosperity of the region”.
About the bike ride, Albanese later tweeted, “it was a privilege to have such a personal and enjoyable tour of the magnificent grounds”. Widodo tweeted the bikes were “designed for use on the highway” and made from bamboo by Singgih Susilo Kartono, an East Javan designer known for his woodcraft.
Albanese confirmed he would attend the G20 summit, which Indonesia will host in November, despite reservations from predecessor Scott Morrison about sitting around the table with Russian President Vladimir Putin after his invasion of Ukraine. “I said before I travelled to Indonesia… that Vladimir Putin attended previous meetings in Australia hosted by (former PM) Tony Abbott,” he told reporters. “That didn’t mean we agree with his stance, indeed we find President Putin’s behaviour to be abhorrent, to be illegal,” he added.
The Labor Party leader discussed advancing opportunities on trade, climate change and regional security with Widodo, who last visited Australia in early 2020. He also offered Australian technical expertise to Indonesia for its capital move from Jakarta to a new site, Borneo’s Nusantara-scheduled for 2024 — and said he hoped to advance a Aus$200 million ($144 million) climate and infrastructure fund for the country.
Southeast Asia focus
Indonesia favours a non-aligned position on the Pacific rivalry between Beijing and Western powers. It is one of several Asian countries to have expressed concerns about the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States-widely seen as an effort to counter China. On Albanese’s three-day trip, he was accompanied by a business delegation and several cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who met Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Sunday.
Malaysian-born Wong has previously called for Canberra to place greater emphasis on Australia’s billion-dollar trade relationship with Jakarta-as well as its trade with Southeast Asia as a whole. “Deepening engagement with Southeast Asia is a priority for my government,” Albanese said, announcing a new envoy and office for the region.
After meeting Widodo, Albanese will travel to South Sulawesi’s Makassar, where Australia has a diplomatic presence. He was also set to meet Lim Jock Hoi, the secretary-general of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations-as Canberra pivots to focus on strengthening its alliances in the region. His first stop after entering office was Japan where he travelled for talks with members of the Quad, an alliance created in the face of China’s push for dominance across the region. – AFP