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His Excellency Professor Doctor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, former President of the Republic of Indonesia, remains hopeful that relations between Australia and Indonesia will be able to withstand the strain of recent events.
HE Professor Dr Yudhoyono was unable to attend today's leading edge forum on geopolitics and international trade at The University of Western Australia, however he provided a heartfelt message to be presented at the In the Zone event.
Dr Michael Chaney, Chancellor of The University of Western Australia, read the statement on behalf of HE Professor Dr Yudhoyono:
Dear Dr Chaney
I have closely followed the sad news of the current situation following the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
I had been so looking forward to taking part in the In the Zone conference but as you are aware this week has been a difficult and sensitive time between our countries, at both government and people-to-people level.
I hope that the current disturbed relationship can be restored. This week however my presence in Perth would be counter-productive and therefore I have postponed my visit to Australia.
I hope you will understand my decision.
Australia - Indonesian relationships have been a matter of special importance to me. I spent two whole Presidential terms trying to mend and elevate Indonesia - Australia relations, starting with my State visit to Australia in mid-2005 where we began our Comprehensive Partnership.
I have invested so much diplomatic and political capital in strong bilateral relations between our two nations and I sincerely hope that our relations will be able to withstand the strain of recent events.
I wish you all very productive discussions at the In the Zone conference. Please convey my best to my good friend Julie Bishop and to all the conference participants.
A panel of leading thinkers and commentators, including Paul Kelly, Editor-at-large of The Australian, Professor Stephen Smith, Director of the Perth USAsia Centre, Krishna Sen, Professor of Indonesian Studies and Dean of Arts at UWA, and Gordon Flake, CEO of the Perth USAsia Centre, discussed the changing nature of social, political and economic relationships in Indonesia and the rest of the zone.
Mr Kelly spoke of a new set of opportunities and challenges, that included leadership factors such as a dynamic new Prime Minister of India, a strong President in China, and an assertive Prime Minister in Japan. He said despite the shock to the Australia-Indonesian relationship of recent events, and sluggish and low rates of global growth, Australia still looked to the Asian region as the best prospect for jobs, trade and investment.
Mr Smith urged a long-term view of Australia's relationship with Indonesia. "While there have been shocks in recent times, if you stand back and let the dust and emotion settle, the fundamentals and terms of institutional arrangements have never been better and never been stronger," he said. "We need to take a long-term perspective. Indonesia will be the fourth largest country and economy in the world by 2050. Unless we bring to bear now all the things that have made us an attractive country ... we won't necessarily have the same leverage with Indonesia that we have now."
Mr Flake said Australia was at the centrepiece of the Indo-Pacific region - a role it shared with Indonesia - and the recent narrative about the relationship between the two countries was narrow and based primarily on relationships. "The primary narrative for the next 25 years won't be the growth of China. It will be the growth of India and Indonesia and growth of the Indo-Pacific region. Indonesia is all about opportunity, yet the narrative ... has been primarily driven by relationships. We need to broaden the narrative; we can't focus just on a single issue that can upset things."
Professor Sen said the context in which Indonesian Prime Minister Joko Widodo operated, in terms of his own political party and dependence on popular support, at time when his popularity level was low, required greater understanding.
Australia's strengths in its services and expertise should be used to build economic pathways to places such as India, said Professor Smith, who said Perth's importance as a gateway to countries like Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and - increasingly - Africa, would intensify in coming years. "When we take mining to Africa, for example, we are taking 100 years of mineral resource expertise there. How we use our services and expertise is very important; if we don't get it right, the economic pathways to places like India will close."
"India is finally realising that it cannot allow itself to continue to regard itself as the leader of the non-aligned movement. It is now a great power and has to start conducting itself as a great power. Modi (Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi) crystallises that change. India's trajectory is in a different incline to China's but it will end up in the same direction." Professor Smith said patience and persistence were the keys to engaging with India. "Now the opportunity is there because India is responding; it is recogising that it needs to engage with the region and with important parties, of which Australia is one."
Leaders from government, business and academia have convened today at this year's In the Zone Leadership Forum at University Club of Western Australia.
In the Zone is The University of Western Australia's premier forum on geopolitics and international trade. A group of outstanding speakers and thinkers will discuss this year's theme Capital Ideas for the Twenty-first Century.
Sonia Nolan (Media Manager, In the Zone ‘15) (+61 4) 01 034 103
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