Testing the waters: Australia and Indonesia

Testing the waters: Australia and Indonesia

Sunday marks the final day of President Joko Widodo’s visit to Australia. The trip heralds a warming of relations and,

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

Sunday marks the final day of President Joko Widodo’s visit to Australia. The trip heralds a warming of relations and, potentially, joint patrols in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the region.

Military ties between the two neighbours were unilaterally suspended by Indonesian General Gatot Nurmantyo in January after materials were found at an Australian base referencing West Papuan independence – a sensitive issue in Jakarta.

While Indonesia is likely to lift the suspension following Sunday’s visit, President Widodo has hedged his bets on the proposed South China Sea patrols. The Indonesian leader says any such activities are contingent on the absence of “tension” between the two countries. Given Australia and Indonesia’s rocky relationship, this is a significant caveat.

Any joint patrols are unlikely to be as provocative as America’s Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea – which Indonesia has criticised heavily. More likely is an expansion of existing patrols in-between the two countries or joint operations in the pirate-infested Sulu Sea.

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