Aust, Indon talks herald new co-operation

AUSTRALIA is leaving what could have been potentially delicate Jakarta defence talks with new opportunities for co-operation – a bright spot in what has been a bleak time for the bilateral relationship.

The multinational Jakarta International Defence Dialogue comes as military co-operation between the neighbouring nations is put on hold three months ago, amid revelations Australia had spied on Indonesia.

Indonesia has requested heightened co-operation with Australia and is eyeing future investment in a small number of Bushmaster armoured vehicles and expertise to sustain other military assets.

Australia’s policy of turning back asylum seeker boats is deeply unpopular in Jakarta, and became even more controversial when it emerged vessels involved in the operation had breached Indonesia’s waters.

Defence Minister David Johnston says the issue – for which Australia apologised – wasn’t even raised in meetings this week.

“I wouldn’t want to comment about it other than to say it hasn’t been raised with me at all,” he told AAP on Thursday.

“The misconception is that the defence relationship was really bad, but it wasn’t.

“I haven’t had to do much, all I’ve had to do is sit down, listen and be responsive.”

Indonesian deputy defence minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin said there was no point spending more time on “introspection”.

But he asked that Australia take more time to understand Indonesia, opening the door to more ministerial interaction and co-operation on Indonesia’s own defence white paper.

“We have ups and downs,” he said.

“And we don’t want (the relationship) to be down all the time. That’s why understanding Indonesia as nation is needed.”

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa on Wednesday said talks on a six-point plan to restore bilateral ties had stalled on point one.

He will meet his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop at next week’s Nuclear Security Summit in The Netherlands.


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