Indonesian Relationship Should Be Based On Mutual Respect And Realism: Howard

The Prime Minister, John Howard, fresh from his re-election and first party-room meeting, has flown to Indonesia to attend the inauguration of the new President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Howard discussed Australia’s relationship with Indonesia in an interview with Metro TV in Jakarta.

Transcript of John Howard’s interview with Metro TV, Jakarta.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Howard, thank you very much for joining us this morning on Metro this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

JOURNALIST:

If I could begin with some recent history – outgoing President Megawati Sukarnoputri made a lot of trips during her three years as President, including to Eastern Europe, to South Asia, as well as the United States, of course but she never made it down to Australia. Were you ever given any reason as to why or do you have any idea why she never made that trip?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t really want to comment on that. That’s essentially a matter for her. We used to see each other quite regularly at regional meetings and I did visit Indonesia on a number of occasions. I tend to not dwell on those things very much. I’m looking forward to a very close relationship with the new President. I had a good relationship with the outgoing President. We were able to handle issues that might have challenged the relationship in quite an effective way.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, you and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono came away with landslide victories at home. How do you expect to use that momentum to change the relationship with Indonesia, will there be a new agenda or do you have a new kind of relationship in mind with Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s always a bit of both. Indonesia and Australia have a very good relationship already. We are thrown together by history and geography. I’m very proud of the fact that Australia has been able to help Indonesia when Indonesia was going through difficult economic times in the late 1990s, the time of the Asian economic downturn, and we’ve cooperated very effectively in the fight against terrorism. I’m immensely grateful for the way in which our police forces worked together in the wake of the Bali attack and also the very ready cooperation following the bomb blast outside the Australian Embassy only a few weeks ago. So, overall, we have a lot to draw on but inevitably the relationship develops and matures and changes over time and I know that the new President has a very strong commitment to the relationship, as I do. And I wanted, by my presence at his inauguration, to signal not only great personal good will but also the great importance that Australia attaches to the relationship. It’s a very important relationship to my country and I’m anxious, on a basis of mutual respect and recognising that we are very different societies but, nonetheless, with a lot of both history and the future in common, I’m very anxious to symbolise and also give reality to the closeness of that relationship by my attendance and I hope in the future a very close working relationship with President Yudhyono.

JOURNALIST:

You spoke to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday, was there anything specific that you discussed, any points that you wanted to bring up during your visit that you plan to discuss or was it simply just a good will conversation and greetings and congratulations?

PRIME MINISTER:

It was very much a congratulatory call. I wanted to congratulate him on his wonderful victory. I naturally observe the courtesies of the Indonesian electoral processes and it seemed about the right time to call him and I hope to see him, of course, when I’m in Jakarta later today and tomorrow. But, once again, this is an occasion for the rest of the world to celebrate the wonderful transition to democratic government and the popular election of a President in Indonesia. It’s an enormous tribute to the Indonesian people, the peaceful transition, the change of government, the way in which there’s been a transfer of power from one President to another in a very open, democratic process and it is an enormous tribute to the people of Indonesia and the political process in Indonesia that this has occurred. And I think the entire nation deserves a great deal of international respect and acclaim for what has been done.

JOURNALIST:

Going back to the terrorist attack that you mentioned on September 9th in front of your Embassy here in Jakarta. Do you believe that the war on terror is going to define the relationship with Indonesia as maybe the US has…as it has with the US and a number of countries on a bilateral level, is that going to also be the dominant factor in relations with Indonesia going forward?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think it’s going to define it. I think it’s a very important part of the relationship but we have a relationship with Indonesia that’s separate from what has occurred in relation to terrorism but, inevitably, because we face this challenge together – and I remember the very powerful words of President-elect Yudhyono at the first anniversary of the Bali attack when he spoke with passion and emotion on behalf of Indonesia about the need to pursue terrorists and it made an enormous impression on the Australians in that audience. I share all of that passion and that commitment and it’s a passion and commitment I want to discharge side by side with Indonesia. We see Indonesia as an ally and a friend in the fight against terrorism. Terrorists are as much the enemy of Indonesia as they are of Australia and that strike outside our Embassy was not only a strike at Australia but it was also a strike at Indonesia and it claimed the lives of Indonesians. And we, together, have a common interest in continuing the fight against terrorism but our relationship naturally involves things other than the fight against terrorism but in recent years that has become a very significant element of it.

JOURNALIST:

Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ve learned so far about…from the investigation into that attack and how many Australians are involved in the investigations?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, there’s quite a number of Australian Federal Police, several score of Australian Federal Police involved in that investigation. I don’t know that I want to comment on operational matters. I always avoid commenting about the operational detail of an investigation. It’s better that that be left to the experts, which of course are the Indonesian National Police and the Australian Federal Police. But I do know that the measure of cooperation has been great and I am so pleased that within hours of the attack occurring there were Australian Federal Police on the ground and additional strike teams sent and the degree of cooperation, once again, has been quite extensive.

JOURNALIST:

Your Government once mentioned that it was willing to send over a commando unit to help Indonesia with its terrorist problem. Is it just Australian Federal Police that are helping or are there also counter-terrorism forces?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, my understanding is just Federal Police.

JOURNALIST:

Okay, if I can move over to security talks now. We have news recently that Australia is planning to revive talks on a new security treaty with Indonesia but given that Indonesia in 1999 walked out of those talks, how is Australia actually going to be able to revive those talks when it was Indonesia who abandoned them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t think it’s quite as precise and defined as all of that. I think what the Foreign Minister has said is that we would, in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time, if there were desire on both sides, we would envisage a more formal arrangement or treaty between our two countries that would pick up a lot of the things that are already the subject of agreement between our agencies in the area of counter-terrorism. We don’t see a resurrection of the old security treaty that was, as you say, terminated in 1999. I think what the Foreign Minister was saying was that if there were to evolve a desire on both sides for some kind of understanding or treaty then we’d certainly be in favour of it. But I don’t see the achievement of this or not as being some kind of test or benchmark of the relationship, it’s something that might emerge, but it would be in a different form than last time and it would have to be something that both sides felt would better express the relationship between the two countries. But whether or not we have it, the relationship is going to be very strong and is going to mature and further develop in the years ahead.

JOURNALIST:

How would it be different from the counter-terrorism MOU that was signed between Indonesia and Australia after the 9/11 attacks in the US?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think it…what I’m saying is it would be different from the old security treaty that was signed in 1995.

JOURNALIST:

Oh okay. And what about the comments from your administration, that Australia would be prepared to launch pre-emptive attacks on any country that it found harbouring terrorists or where terrorists were operating, does that include Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I certainly wouldn’t envisage that that would occur in relation to Indonesia. I was not really stating that in relation to any country and I have the very strong view that countries like Indonesia, with whom we have very close relationships, if action were needed to be taken against groups that might threaten Australia then that action would be taken by the Indonesian forces. I was simply stating a principle, that principle merely was that if you ever had, how remote the likelihood of the situation in the future where a country were unable or unwilling and the only way to protect Australia was to take action, that that action would be taken. But I imagine that’s a view that many countries hold. I don’t think Australia would be alone in holding that view but I certainly don’t regard that as a statement of a last resort principle as something that should be seen as being in any way antagonistic to any of our friends in the region and, most particularly, Indonesia.

JOURNALIST:

Is Australia continuing with its plan to arm fighter jets with cruise missiles that would have a long enough radius that would include Indonesia? I mean is this not a provocative idea for the region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’s nothing provocative about it. It’s never provocative for a country to have adequate armed forces to guard against any contingency in the future, and we actually made it known that we were going to acquire certain armaments for our jet aircraft when we had our Defence White Paper or defence capability plan some years ago. There’s nothing new about any of this. So none of that should be seen as in any way provocative anymore than I would see it being provocative for Indonesia to acquire a capacity to effectively defend herself. Every country has that right. The truth is that Australia and Indonesia are close friends. We don’t see Indonesia as being in any way belligerent towards Australia and I know Indonesia does not see Australia as being belligerent towards Indonesia. We are close friends and partners in the region and we operate on that basis, but all countries take precautions in relation to defence. We never know the contingencies that might arise, and it’s normal and ordinary and unexceptionable for countries to invest in their self-defence, and that is what Australia does and will go on doing, and I am sure that’s understood by Indonesia.

JOURNALIST:

And how about the idea of a missile shield? Is that a program that your administration plans to pursue during your next term?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we are willing to investigate that with the United States and we once again see that as something that ought to be investigated. Whether we further invest in it or get further involved in it depends on the result of the research and the result of the investigation, but once again we don’t see that as being in any way inconsistent with our relations on a very friendly basis with a country like Indonesia.

JOURNALIST:

And another security question. We’ve also read about Australia’s interest in creating a version of NATO for the southern hemisphere. Would that include Indonesia, and how has Jakarta been… has Jakarta been receptive to that idea?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sorry, would you repeat that question. I missed the first part.

JOURNALIST:

An interest in creating a version of NATO for the southern hemisphere. Is that an idea that… how far along is that idea, and is it something that Jakarta has been receptive to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s not something that… there may have been some speculation about it, but I don’t think you can regard that as being very high on my list of priorities. We have relationships, we have the ANZUS alliance of course with the United States, we have the five power defence arrangements, we have very close working relationships with Indonesia, and I think we’ll sort of take each set of relationships at a time.

JOURNALIST:

Do you feel that Australians right now are currently safe visiting or living in Indonesia, and will you be reinforcing or revoking any of the travel advisories you have for Indonesia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there’s obviously still areas of concern, and those areas of concern are expressed in our travel advisories. We must accurately reflect advice that we get, and those travel advisories are just a flat factual statement of risk assessment which is made at the time, and we continue because of unfortunate events to give particular warnings and we must do that because that is the obligation we have to our citizens. We don’t like doing it, but we see it as unavoidable and appropriate and necessary that we do so because we have a responsibility and it just reinforces in my mind the need to work ever closer with the Indonesian authorities in the fight against terrorism.

JOURNALIST:

Moving on, a recent poll by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that Australians on the whole perceived Indonesia to be a far greater threat than any other country in the region. Do you think that your administration should take any responsibility for that impression, or what can you do to change that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can say to the Australian public, as I’m saying now through this, indirectly through this interview, that I don’t see Indonesia as in any way a threat to Australia. I see Indonesia as our nearest neighbour, a very large country, a country that is very different in history and composition from Australia, but nonetheless a country that over the years has developed very close links with Australia, and I see it as my task as Prime Minister to build the relationship and make it closer, but it’s got to be a relationship based on mutual respect and realism and understanding of both of our points of difference and also the things that we have in common. I think in a relationship between two countries like Australia and Indonesia, we should try and build and develop those things that we have in common, rather than dwell too much on imaginary relationships that can’t be achieved simply because our societies are different. I think if you focus on the things that we can achieve together, we won’t be surprised at how close the relationship can become.

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