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Indonesia and Australia hold defense talks as both nations move toward signing a security agreement

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia and Australia held high-level talks in Jakarta on Friday as the neighboring countries seek to strengthen security ties by signing a defense cooperation agreement in the coming months.

Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who is set to become Indonesia’s next leader, said that he and Australian counterpart Richard Marles discussed ways of maintaining and enhancing the good relationship between the two nations.

Subianto said that Indonesia and Australia hope to sign a “very significant” defense cooperation agreement within two or three months. No details about the agreement have been provided.

Marles described the pact as “the single deepest and most significant defense cooperation agreement” in the history of the two countries.

“It will be a very significant moment in our bilateral relationship,” Marles said during a joint news conference with Subianto. “Australia and Indonesia have a shared destiny and a shared collective security and that is the basis on which we are moving forward with our own defense planning.”

Subianto, 72, is a former general who has never held elective office. He emerged as the apparent winner of the Feb. 14 presidential election. If an official count conducted over the next few weeks confirms his victory, he’ll take office in October.

Marles, who is on a two-day visit to Indonesia, said in a statement before his trip that the two countries have a long history of close cooperation on maritime security and would “share an ambition to further broaden and deepen our defense relationship.”

Friday’s meeting came less than a week after Australian Defense Force Chief Gen. Angus Campbell met with Subianto on Tuesday. The back-to-back visits by two top Australian security officials this week has reflected the importance of Indonesia, the world’s third-largest democracy, to Australia.

Marles congratulated Subianto on winning the Indonesian presidential election, saying the election has been watched very closely in Australia. When asked about some Australians who are considered to support separatist rebels in Indonesia’s restive Papua region, Marles reiterated that Australia recognizes the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia

“There is no support for any independence movements,” Marles said, “We support the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia and that includes those provinces being part of Indonesia, no ifs, no buts, and I want to be clear about that.”

Although Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation of more than 270 million people, is often presented as one of Australia’s most important neighbors and strategic allies, the relationship hasn’t always been smooth.

“We are destined to be close neighbors and we are determined to be a good neighbors,” Subianto said. “Historically there are ups and downs, but we consider Australia as our close friend, which always in many critical instances sided with Indonesia.”

Recent disagreements include allegations of wiretapping by the Australian Signals Directorate in 2013 to monitor the private phone calls of then Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and other senior officials; Indonesia’s use of capital punishment on Australian drug smugglers; and cases of people smuggling.

In 2017, Indonesia temporarily suspended military cooperation with Australia, including joint training, education, exchanges of officers and visits, over an alleged insult against the Indonesian state ideology Pancasila, a set of vague principles that mandates belief in one God and unity among Indonesia’s population, and the Indonesian military at an Australian military base.

In September 2021, Indonesia filed a diplomatic protest against Australia for being slow to provide information about its activities in the AUKUS trilateral pact involving the United States and the United Kingdom, including plans for Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

Since 2022, Australia, along with Japan and Singapore, has been a part of the annual Indonesia-U.S. joint combat exercise called Super Garuda Shield, making it the largest since the drills began in 2009.

The expanded drills are seen by China as a threat. Chinese state media have accused the U.S. of building an Indo-Pacific alliance similar to NATO to limit China’s growing military and diplomatic influence in the region.

The two ministers also said that they are also discussing the issues of people smuggling and people trafficking.

“This is a shared challenge for both of our countries and that we need to be working cooperatively,” Marles said.

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