AUSKAR SURBAKTI, PRESENTER: Just weeks after he came to power, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott held his first overseas meeting with Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a sign of how important the new Government views the relationship.
And on the agenda was Indonesia's sovereignty over the provinces of Papua. Mr Abbott was clear on the issue, proclaiming rock-solid support for Indonesia.
Papua was in the spotlight again at the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation) summit in Bali, when three activists breached the walls of the Australian Consulate.
Mr Abbott maintained his stance, warning people not to use Australia to grand-stand against Indonesia.
Jim Middleton spoke to the Jakarta Post's editor-in-chief Meidyatama Suryodiningrat about the issue.
JIM MIDDLETON, REPORTER: Meidyatama thanks for giving us your time.
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, JAKARTA POST: Happy to be here.
JIM MIDDLETON: There have been many sticking points over the years in Indonesia's relations with Australia but the one that really stands out currently is West Papua. Why is it, despite repeated assertions from Australian politicians, that Australia fundamentally respects Indonesia's territorial integrity and its sovereignty, and is a signatory to the Lombok Treaty, that this remains a matter of concern in Jakarta?
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: I think it is a couple of things. First of all, you have to understand the psyche of the country. I think every nation has a certain phobia, a certain psychological hang up, so to speak. Ours is about the question of unity. We've always perceived about colonial and foreign powers trying to break up Indonesia. I mean that has been the story and history of Indonesia. So the issue of a unitary state is always very important. And I think we've learned that even though repeated declarations of an acknowledgement of territorial integrity, countries can change very quickly. I think the case of East Timor was one example ....
JIM MIDDLETON: So is it simply the case that it is residual suspicion over Australia's behaviour towards East Timorese independence?
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: I think in many quarters that sticks in people's minds. They remember that. I think that's a memory ....
JIM MIDDLETON: Sticks in their craw too?
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: Yes. To some extent. Indonesia itself has not been able to recognise the issue of Papua as a whole. And I think there are various examples of that. It takes a decades, sometimes it takes centuries. Whether it's the US with the issue of Japanese internment or Hawaii, which took over 100 years, or even Australia itself and the Aboriginals.
So Indonesia unless it can reconcile and truly resolve the question and issue of Papua will always have something hanging over their head and a fear others will exploit that. So I think you have to understand it within that psychological context.
JIM MIDDLETON: Tony Abbott, while he was in the region, said that things are improving in West Papua, and also warned people against using Australia as a platform from which to grandstand. How would that have been received?
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: It is a very welcome statement. However, I think for many Indonesians outside of the Government, the one thing that they question is are we really doing enough? The issue of Papua is not something which can be resolved externally. It is something which Indonesians have to settle themselves and truly settle as part of a unitary State.
JIM MIDDLETON: Let's turn to Australia and Indonesia's economic relationship. Is it fair to say that Australia has been very lucky having President Yudhoyono as Indonesia's head of state over the last nearly decade?
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: I'd agree 100 per cent, and I would actually go back a bit further, maybe the last 14 years to 15 years. It think it all began with Abdurrahman Wahid whose trip to Australia, the first Indonesian president to visit Australia in I can't remember how many decades ....
JIM MIDDLETON: Since the 1970s.
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: Seventies definitely. So that broke a lot of barriers down. The coming in of Yudhoyono was another plus. I think potentially you will not see Indonesia Australia relations in terms of the summit relations being as good as it is now because Yudhoyono is someone who understands and appreciates foreign policy. He comprehends the nuances of bilateral relationships and statesmanship. The problem is or the challenge is Indonesia will have an election come October of next year, so we will have a new president by October 20th.
Out of the current candidates, very few, if any, have a clear foreign policy platform or an engaging interest in foreign policy per se. We don't know what their views are about Australia, what their view is about international trade regimes and so on and so forth. So I think you are looking at a very good term in the Indonesia Australia relationship.
And, if I can just add, it is also very important, I think, Abbott's time at present because when the Indonesian president comes in and is sworn in in October 20th, 2014, he will look at this 12 months of Abbott being in power as sort of a platform, a basis of the bilateral relationship. He will go back and see what has happened in the last 12 months and what I need to do in the next five years.
JIM MIDDLETON: How much, then, of the quality of relations between Australia and Indonesia, apart from the fact that Tony Abbott will have had this breathing space, how much may or may not depend on continuity within the administration? For example, that foreign minister Marty Natalegawa might stay on?
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: I think that begs the question is how strong is our relationship really? Is it really only based on the characters or characteristics of the president…
JIM MIDDLETON: …of the personalities.
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: ..the personalities of the people at the very top or have we built a stronger foundation or a stronger web of relationships that it will overcome whatever the personalities, whether they fit or not, of the leaders of the two countries?
JIM MIDDLETON: Meidyatama, you have been very generous with your time. Thanks for talking to us.
MEIDYATAMA SURYODININGRAT: You are welcome. Thank you.