Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a press conference after a meeting with the German Chancellor in the Federal Chanclery from Shutterstock.com

Indonesia advocates for Australia to join Asean

Indonesia’s President Jokowi Dodo, also known as Jokowi, has advocated a move for Australia join the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), saying that it is a good idea.

He talked about the matter in an interview with Fairfax Media before leaving for Sydney to attend a summit between Asean and Australia over the weekend and his comments were reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) on last Thursday (15 March), saying that he endorsed it because Asean region will be better, for stability, economic stability, and also political stability.

Responding to the matter, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said that Australia would “very seriously” consider any formal invitation.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told SMH, “I will look forward to discussing that with President Jokowi if he raises it with me. We would wait to be invited. We treat Asean and the centrality of Asean in the region with the greatest respect.”

Turnbull will open a special leaders’ summit in Sydney on Sunday at a business forum attended by the 10 Asean member country leaders, saying, “The summit marks a coming of age of Australia’s relationship with Southeast Asia.”

As a bloc the 10 Asean member countries make up Australia’s third-largest trading partner. It is said that it worths almost $100 billion in 2016/17.

Australia is not a formal member of Asean. However, it maintains a role as a strategic partner and takes part in the biennial leaders’ summit first instituted in 2016.

Turnbull hopes this year’s meeting will help to unlock new opportunities for trade and investment that will support jobs in Australia and across the region.

Turnbull is particularly keen to see Australian small businesses get a piece of the action amid a rapidly expanding middle class in the region as by 2030, there will be an estimated 161 million middle-class households.

It is said that the region is expected to grow by at least 5.4 percent for the next decade, significantly higher than the global average.

In a separate occasion, Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said on Friday that his country has lobbied South-east Asian countries to carry out maritime patrols in the disputed South China Sea, claimed in most part by China, to improve security.

He told reporters that for the South China Sea, he went around to friends, Asean defence ministers, so that each country that faces the South China Sea patrols up to 200 nautical miles, around 230km.

He also said that Indonesia is focusing on three areas, notably the Sulu Sea, the Malacca Strait and the seas around the coast of Thailand, referring to existing cooperation with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

“If we look at the (borders) from Vietnam down to Indonesia and to the Philippines, we can see we have secured almost half of the South China Sea (in areas) we are already patrolling,” he added.

China has claimed most of the South China Sea, an important trade route and which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas, and has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and air strips, developments that have upset Asean members.

China has also been rapidly increasingly its military deployment in the South China Sea. Its air force also said in February that Chinese Su-35 fighter jets took part in a combat patrol over the disputed waterway.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, all of which are members of Asean, and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.

Indonesia says it’s a non-claimant state in the South China Sea dispute. However, it stated that it has clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands and expanded its military presence there and also renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone, asserting its own maritime claim.

Ms Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne held talks with their Indonesian counterparts Retno Marsudi and Ryacudu in Sydney ahead of the Asean summit.

Australia, which has already stated that it takes no sides on South China Sea disputes but has supported United States-led freedom of navigation activities, has previously said it had no plans to take part in joint patrols.

Turnbull will on Friday hold bilateral talks with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong after they dined together on Thursday night.

Jokowi arrived in Sydney on Friday and is expected to have dinner with Turnbull at his Sydney harbourside home in the evening.

The two countries are said to hope for signing a free trade deal on the sidelines of the summit after failing to meet a deadline late last year, although negotiations are ongoing.