June 9, 2022
JAKARTA – Anthony Albanese’s unconditional assurance that he will attend the Group of 20 Bali Summit, as well as his promise to make it much easier for Indonesian citizens to obtain Australian visas, are likely the most attractive oleh-oleh (gifts) for President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Albanese knew very well how to win his host’s heart during their first bilateral meeting, which took place at Bogor Palace on Monday.
These goodwill gestures from the newly elected Prime Minister will help build a new phase in the two neighbors’ relationship. Even when Australia was ruled by a Conservative Party regime, Indonesia maintained good ties, despite elements of distrust. Traditionally though, Indonesia feels more comfortable dealing with a Labor government, now headed by Albanese.
Albanese’s visa pledge comes as good news for many Indonesians, among whom Australia is one of the most popular destinations for travel, education and business.
More importantly, the Australian premier’s confirmed G20 summit attendance is a diplomatic coup for Jokowi. Getting all G20 leaders to attend the summit is his top priority, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could kill this ambition.
Some G20 leaders have threatened to boycott the Bali summit in retaliation for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As the host, Jokowi has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin, and surprisingly, Albanese assured Jokowi of his participation in the event, whether Putin comes or not.
The Sydney Morning Herald quoted the Prime Minister as saying that he will attend the G20 summit “because the work of the G20 is critical at this time of global economic uncertainty”.
“I will work closely with President Widodo to help deliver a successful summit,” added Albanese in contrast to his predecessor, Scott Morrison, who had fallen in line with United States President Joe Biden’s call to exclude Russia from the annual summit.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also joined the call, but Jokowi made it clear that as the holder of this year’s G20 presidency, Indonesia had no right to not invite a member to the meeting.
The Western leaders have toned down their stance, but only Albanese has openly affirmed his unconditional attendance at the summit. Jokowi will take it as a personal matter if one or several leaders decide to boycott the Bali meeting because of the Putin controversy.
Albanese also reiterated a development pledge of A$470 million (US$338.49 million) over four years for Indonesia and the ASEAN region, as well as a A$200 million partnership with Indonesia on climate and infrastructure. The development aid has not garnered much attention, however, because in the end, the funds will primarily serve Australia’s interests.
The difficulty Indonesians experience in getting a visa to work, study or holiday in Australia has been a long-standing issue, particularly since around 200,000 Indonesians are currently studying in Australia.
According to the Herald, Jokowi raised the visa issue twice with Morrison. But progress has been very slow, while Australians have continued to enjoy Indonesia’s generous visa facility.
We hope that Indonesia’s aspirations will not fall on deaf ears again.
After a good start, President Jokowi needs to be more active in reaching out to Australia’s new government. A shared commitment to making the G20 summit a success is important capital for boosting the two countries’ ties.