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Morrison mends fences with China in Jakarta

Vice-President Wang made a point of acknowledging the meeting had been instigated by Australia and approved of by President Xi Jinping. He said both parties “attach high importance to this relationship”.

The Prime Minster and Vice-President were among the foreign leaders who had flown in for Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s inauguration, which marks the beginning of his second five-year term. But the real work took place in the hours leading up to the afternoon ceremony.

Mr Morrison’s morning meeting with Mr Joko, commonly known as Jokowi, reiterated the leaders’ support for the Indonesia-Australian Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement as both sides inch closer to ratification of the deal.

But with geopolitical structures in a state of upheaval across the globe, it was the PM’s extended meeting with Mr  Wang that made the flying visit particularly worthwhile.

Tensions whipped  up

During the meeting Mr Morrison congratulated China  on the progress made in trade discussions with the United States, which was “very good for global economy”.

Formal top-level meetings between Australian and Chinese officials have been rare in recent years. The PM spoke briefly with President Xi on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Osaka in June, but there has been no formal bilateral meeting between the Australian and Chinese leaders for three years.

Simmering tensions between China and Australia were whipped up  this month by accusations from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton that China has launched cyber attacks and interfered in Australia’s internal affairs.

Across Jakarta country leaders and envoys in town for the inauguration engaged in a form of diplomatic speed dating ahead of the inauguration.

Scott Morrison with his wife Jenny and Joko Widodo and his wife Iriana. 

Mr Morrison got his meeting with the Indonesian President in early and said it now appeared the Indonesian parliament would be voting on the Indonesia-Australia free trade deal that could also have been passed by presidential degree.

Poppy Winanti, a senior lecturer at Gadjah Mada University, said the discussion in the Indonesian parliament will be influenced by key appointments in Jokowi’s new cabinet, due to be announced in coming days.

Meanwhile, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the free-trade deal with Indonesia would be good for jobs, adding that Mr Morrison’s trip to Jakarta was an important gesture.

“It is important that we have a good relationship with our neighbour to the north in Indonesia. There are enormous economic advantages we will have as Indonesia grows into the future,” he said.

Mr Albanese has had blowback from sections of the union movement for supporting free trade deals with Indonesia, Peru and Hong Kong, but said extra assurances and safeguards asked for by Labor meant the deals “will be good for Australian jobs”.

With Philip Coorey


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