Canberra - The East Timor issue in 1999 drove a wedge between Indonesia and Australia. But the Dec 26 tsunami tragedy - which saw Australians opening their heart and wallets to help the Indonesian victims - brought the two neighbors together again. And on April 4, their leaders formally embraced the growing bonhomie by signing a partnership aimed at improving economic, political and security ties.
The agreement was signed during Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s official visit to Australia - only the third time an Indonesian leader had stepped on Australian soil in 30 years.
Stressing Australia’s importance to Indonesia, Dr Yudhoyono said the pact was a logical step forward in the relationship between the two countries.
“It assumes that security, prosperity and stability of Indonesia and Australia are interconnected. It assumes that our countries are locked together not just by geography but by a common future, one that can best be harnessed if we can closely work together for the long term. It is not enough for us just to be neighbours, we have to be strong partners,” said Dr Yudhoyono.
For his part, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said: “A successful, moderate, Islamic Indonesia led by a man of compassion and a man of vision such as President Yudhoyono is about the most powerful weapon that we can have against zealotry and extremism in our part of the world.”
The new partnership will allow for greater cooperation in defence and security issues. Indonesia scrapped an earlier defence treaty in anger over Australia's participation in a military force against pro-Jakarta militias in the former Indonesian province of East Timor after its violent split with Indonesia in 1999.
In an editorial, The Jakarta Post noted that “relations between Indonesia and Australia have been subject to emotional issues for too long; tantrums and misperceptions sparked by psychological nuances”.
“Future disagreements will inevitably arise in the future. But if Australia can come to terms with its identity, and leaders - in government and parliament - in both capitals approach their relationship with sobriety, the potential of bilateral ties can truly be fulfilled,” it said.
* Australia, Indonesia embrace new era in relations (The Straits Times, April 5)
* Friends Down Under (The Jakarta Post, April 5)