Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) meets Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott prior to a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta. Photo: Alex EllinghausenJakarta: Tony Abbott met the new Indonesian President Joko Widodo late on Monday night and personally invited him to Brisbane to the G20 meeting next month, but received a non-committal reply.
As foreshadowed in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media recently, Mr Joko is waiting for advice before deciding to make the trip to Australia on November 15 and 16.
“He invited us to attend G20. It was the main topic,” Mr Joko told reporters after his bilateral meeting with Mr Abbott at the presidential palace into which he had moved just hours earlier.
“I don’t know [if I will go] because I said we still have not a cabinet who will discuss it.”
Asked when he would appoint his cabinet, he said, “as soon as possible”.
The pair had also talked about two-way investment, which is a thin $15 billion in goods and services, and the number of students who came from Indonesia to study in Australian universities.
“The number is very big, but it’s not the case in reverse,” Mr Joko said.
The Abbott government is attempting to redress this with its so-called “reverse Colombo plan” to encourage Australians to study in Indonesian universities.
Australia regards both the bilateral meeting and Mr Joko’s attendance at the G20 as extremely important as Mr Abbott seeks to get in on the ground floor and build a strong relationship with the new Indonesian president, who was inaugurated earlier in the day.
But in small talk before their meeting, Mr Joko seemed to acknowledge the rocky history between the two countries, saying he hoped the relationship would improve.
He said he wanted Mr Abbott to know that, “if we have a problem, you can talk to my ambassador [Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, who was at the talks] because for me communication is important”.
Mr Nadjib is the same ambassador who was withdrawn from his post for six months by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono over revelations of Australian spying.
Mr Abbott reminded Mr Joko that he was following in the footsteps of his predecessor, John Howard, who attended the inauguration of former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2004.
Mr Joko’s meeting with Abbott was bookended by other parts of a crowded schedule; Mr Joko met with the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore, and the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry.
Mr Joko was also busy with the public festivities, cutting a ceremonial yellow cone of rice and distributing it to ordinary people: a taxi driver, three women from the poor easternmost province of Papua, and a physics student.
He prayed on stage with leaders of each of Indonesia’s six organised religions: Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucianism and said he would throw open the presidential palace in an “orderly way” to the people for dialogue.
In his speech to the people, he repeated a sentiment expressed earlier in the day at his inauguration ceremony that Indonesians from all walks of life should work together to manage their “big nation … in the right way”.
“There is no way we will be big and strong if we are lazy,” he said.
Earlier, in his inauguration speech, Mr Joko had emphasised Indonesia’s history as a maritime nation, quoting the motto of the Indonesian navy “Jales Veva Jaya Mahe”, which means “In the water, we are triumphant”, and said that for too long the country had turned its back on the “bays and straits and oceans”.
“The time for us is to return to make Indonesia a maritime nation … to be as great in the oceans as our ancestors were in the past.”
The comment reinforces his intention, expressed in a blunt warning to Mr Abbott in an exclusive Fairfax Media interview, to be “stronger” on maritime sovereignty, and to invoke maritime law against any Australian incursions.
Also yesterday, Mr Kerry met Mr Abbott, and praised him for his contribution to the fight against ISIL, saying the United States “could not have a stronger partner” than Australia.