President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono met with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard in Darwin, Australia, on Monday as both countries sought to boost economic and political ties.
High on the agenda was the issue of Papua. Human rights abuses in the province by Indonesian military forces have drawn criticism from Australians in the past. Analysts say Yudhoyono hopes to reassure Gillard that all is well, as well as seeking assurances that Australia will not change its policy of supporting Indonesia’s claim over the restive region.
The president also hopes Australia will pour investment into the eastern regions. Yudhoyono said early on Monday morning that he would invite Australian business leaders to invest in eastern Indonesia, including Sumba Island in East Nusa Tenggara, which he wants to turn into the country’s biggest cattle ranch.
Gillard said she would push for Indonesia to do better to stop the influx of refugees and other migrants, which is a sensitive issue for Australians.
During a dinner hosted by Gillard on Monday evening, Yudhoyono told Australian politicians and business leaders that he hoped his visit would boost ties between the two countries.
“With a strong bilateral foundation and a strong relationship that is becoming more intense between our countries, we can enhance cooperation,” he was quoted as saying by ABC News.
Yudhoyono also asked Australian businesses to invest in Indonesia.
“In the future, I am convinced that Australia will be one of the main — in the top 10 — investors in Indonesia, much like Singapore and Malaysia,” he said.
Yudhoyono and Gillard will continue their discussions today.
“Terrorism and drugs, people smuggling, natural disaster management — threats as difficult as any in our shared history,” Gillard said.
“We share a full agenda — our dialogue will be a powerful symbolic expression of goodwill,” she said at the dinner, held at the Northern Territory parliament building.
She said problems that once threatened to divide Australia and Indonesia now brought the two nations closer together.
Hariyadi Wirawan, an international relations expert from the University of Indonesia, said Indonesia and Australia needed each other to solve their problems.
“Yudhoyono will ask for more … investment and support on Papua while Gillard will ask Indonesia to help stop boat people,” he said.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott also addressed the dinner and congratulated Yudhoyono on political and economic reforms made in his country.
“On some measures, 50 million Indonesians now enjoy middle-class life and Indonesia’s total GDP now exceeds Australia’s,” Abbott said as quoted by Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service.
“Indonesian democracy has stabilized and matured under your presidency and you have led by example.”
On Monday, Australia signed an agreement to transfer four C-130 Hercules aircraft to Indonesia.
“These four airplanes given to Indonesia will truly assist the capacity of our military in implementing humanitarian assistance and also responding to natural disasters,” Yudhoyono said.
Indonesia is an important trade partner of Australia, with two-way trade in 2011 valued at $14.8 billion.
The president’s visit comes as Australia grapples with ways to deal with people smuggling. Most refugee boats, including one that capsized last week, killing about 90 people, depart from Indonesia.