Indonesia and Australia have promised to strike a new defence cooperation agreement, despite lingering tensions over the federal government’s push to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Defence Minister Richard Marles and his Indonesian counterpart Prabowo Subianto made the announcement after holding talks in Canberra.
In a joint statement, the two ministers said they had instructed officials to begin negotiations to “elevate” the existing defence cooperation pact between the two countries to “an agreement that is binding under international law”.
They said the new agreement would “bolster our strong defence cooperation by supporting increased dialogue, strengthening interoperability, and enhancing practical arrangements”.
- Key points:
- Australia and Indonesia’s defence ministers agreed to look at elevating the existing defence cooperation pact
- A joint statement says they want to create an agreement that is “binding under international law”
- Indonesia responded angrily when it was blindsided by the AUKUS announcement in 2021
The statement also flags that Indonesian and Australian armed forces could be given reciprocal access to training ranges, as well as being granted easier access for joint military activities.
The two defence ministers called the announcement an “important message of our shared commitment to a region that embraces ASEAN centrality and the objectives and principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, where sovereignty is respected”.
The announcement indicates that Indonesia remains willing to continue building deeper police, intelligence and military ties with Australia, even though the bilateral relationship has been tested by Australia’s nuclear submarine plan.
Indonesia responded angrily when it was blindsided by the AUKUS announcement in 2021, and its diplomats have repeatedly raised concerns that Australia’s submarine acquisition could unsettle the region and create a worrying nuclear proliferation precedent.
In the wake of 2 + 2 meetings with defence and foreign ministers in Canberra on Thursday, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said she had continued to press the Australian government to be “transparent” about its plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
In a video statement released on Friday morning, Retno Marsudi said she had “reiterated the importance of transparency in AUKUS cooperation and the importance of a commitment to comply with nuclear non-proliferation, as well as a commitment to comply with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and IAEA safeguards”.
She also said that Indonesia was “very worried about increasing rivalries” in Asia.
“If this is not managed properly, this rivalry can become an open conflict that will greatly impact the region,” she said.
The joint statement released by the four ministers treads carefully on issues around nuclear proliferation, saying that both countries were “committed to strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, including its cornerstone, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)”.
It also highlights deepening defence cooperation, “including by working together on military medicine, military technology, defence industry and exploring ways to make it easier for our militaries to work together.”
Ministers denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia would be “very transparent” about its nuclear submarines plan, “not just with Indonesia but the region”.
“I can understand given Indonesia’s history why they want us to be transparent around that nuclear propulsion.
“It is not a new capability globally, but it is a new capability to Australia.”
She also stressed again that Australia was a strong supporter of the NPT and that it had no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons.
The joint statement also includes a strong denunciation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including sharper language than Indonesia normally uses on the subject.
All four ministers “deplored in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine” and “demanded the Russian Federation’s complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine”.
“The Ministers also denounced the prolonged war and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy – constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks,” it reads.
But the language on Myanmar is more measured, with ministers simply calling on the military junta to “swiftly and fully implement the ASEAN Five Point Consensus” while demanding an “immediate cessation of violence” and “the creation of space for meaningful dialogue to allow the democratic process to resume”.
Indonesian ministers had previously pushed the region to take a stronger stance on Myanmar, but it has adopted a more cautious approach since taking on the ASEAN chair position, as it weighs up how to best coordinate a regional response to the crisis ahead of “elections” promised by the junta later this year.