The Jakarta Post
The informal summit between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in Batam on Wednesday covered substantial diplomatic subjects, but in political terms the face-to-face encounter itself was meaningful as an adieu for the President, whose 10 years in office ends October this year.
The outgoing President has great empathy and understanding for the Australian government and people ' although it is also true he is the only Indonesian president to recall the country's ambassador to Canberra, to protest surveillance overreach by the continent-state.
The Batam summit, however, is very important because the results of the two leaders' talk will put aside all psychological and political barriers standing in the way of their bid to strengthen Jakarta-Canberra ties. A successful Batam rendezvous will help the next Indonesian government continue normal relations with the Abbott administration, because no matter what, the two countries will always be geographical neighbors.
'We agreed to overcome the once-disturbing problems and agreed to find new cooperation opportunities for the sake of the interests of Indonesia and Australia,' the President said in a joint press conference with the prime minister.
The next Indonesian leader, either Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo or Prabowo Subianto, will likely take a tougher stance with the Abbott administration to appease domestic constituents who are now more hostile to Indonesia's neighbors.
As a former Army general, Prabowo will possibly approach the bilateral relationship from a military perspective ' that is, the Australian people consistently regard Indonesia as a threat while for many Indonesians the neighbor is often annoying because of its role as the 'deputy sheriff' of the United States.
There is now a deepening deficit of trust between the two countries, although people-to-people relations remain strong. Citing Indonesian Ambassador to Australia Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, 'trust and confidence' are the most important elements to build productive relations.
The readiness of Abbott to stop over in Batam before his trip to Europe and the US deserves appreciation. We Indonesians are often too demanding as we often ' wrongly ' perceive that Australia needs Indonesia more than we need Australia. We are often overly sensitive toward our neighbor, but at the same time we are ignorant of its position.
Abbott was elected by Australian voters to work for the interests of the people and the country. We need to understand that the issue of unwanted migrants from poorer countries passing through Indonesian waters is very upsetting for them and for their national security.
Abbott's trip to Batam reflected his determination to continue good and productive relations with Indonesia. He will certainly have to readjust himself with the arrival of a new Indonesian president, but despite all the disruptions the new Indonesian leader will also have no choice but to ensure stable relations with Australia.