Jakarta: Australia’s new prime minister and Indonesia’s president rode bamboo bicycles together on Monday as they held talks to boost ties, with Canberra embarking on a diplomatic charm offensive to counter China’s expanding assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.
Anthony Albanese hailed relations with Indonesia and vowed to strengthen them on his first bilateral trip since being elected last month, choosing Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as an early stop in what has become a tradition for new Australian premiers.
After a guard of honour, Indonesian President Joko Widodo presented Albanese with a bicycle at the presidential palace in Bogor — a city south of capital Jakarta — where the pair removed their jackets, donned helmets and rode around the grounds.
“Australia’s relationship with Indonesia is one of our most important. We are linked not just by geography, we are linked by choice,” Albanese said in a joint press conference held after talks.
“Our relationship is ever-deepened by the strategic and economic interests we share.”
Widodo said good relations between the two would contribute to “the peace and prosperity of the region”.
Albanese confirmed he would attend the G20 summit, which Indonesia will host in November, despite reservations from predecessor Scott Morrison about sitting around the table with Russian President Vladimir Putin after his invasion of Ukraine.
The Labor leader spoke of advancing opportunities together on trade, climate change and regional security with Widodo, who last visited Australia in early 2020.
Indonesia favours a non-aligned position on the Pacific rivalry between Beijing and Western powers.
It is one of several Asian countries that expressed concerns about the AUKUS security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On Albanese’s three-day trip, he was accompanied by a business delegation and several cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who met Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi on Sunday.
Wong has previously called for Canberra to place greater emphasis on Australia’s billion-dollar trade relationship with Jakarta — as well as its trade with Southeast Asia as a whole.
“Deepening engagement with Southeast Asia is a priority for my government,” Albanese said, announcing a new envoy and office for the region.
After meeting Widodo, Albanese will travel to South Sulawesi’s Makassar, where Australia has a diplomatic presence.
He was also set to meet the secretary-general of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations — as Canberra pivots to focus on strengthening its alliances in the region.
His first stop after coming to power was Japan where he travelled for talks with members of the Quad, an alliance created in the face of China’s push for dominance across the region.