Indonesian troops may join training on Australian soil for the first time as defence ties deepen

Indonesian troops could join training exercises on Australian soil for the first time, as part of a deepening of defence ties with Australia.

While Indonesia has joined naval exercises with Australia in the past, its armed forces have not actively taken part in defence exercises on Australian land.

Australia’s defence minister, Peter Dutton, and foreign minister, Marise Payne, met with their Indonesian counterparts in Jakarta on Thursday, on the first leg of a four-country trip that will also include India, South Korea and the United States.

Indonesia’s defence minister, Prabowo Subianto, said he and Dutton had discussed “the possibility of Australia opening their training areas for the participation of Indonesian units to be training together with Australia”.

“I think this is a historical first,” Prabowo said.

Speaking after he and Dutton agreed to update the countries’ defence cooperation arrangement, Prabowo said: “We are close neighbours and we would like to be even closer friends.”

Joint military training will be seen as a deepening of the relationship between Australia and its northern neighbour, which at times has been strained – including over East Timor, asylum-seeker boat turnbacks and spying revelations.

Indonesian personnel were among observers at this year’s Talisman Sabre training exercise between Australian and US military forces in Queensland, whereas Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Kingdom actively participated.

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Indonesian national armed forces have also “observed” and “shared their significant operational experiences” in the Northern Territory during a disaster relief exercise known as Exercise Crocodile Response, led by Australia and the US.

Dutton said Australia and Indonesia were bolstering their security cooperation in “an increasingly contested region”.

“Of course our navies regularly exercise together already, but there will be more that they can do together,” Dutton said.

“Our renewed defence cooperation arrangement will see Australia and Indonesia step up our training initiatives, our joint training initiatives, and defence operational activities over the coming years.”

Dutton said Australia would provide 15 Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles to Indonesia for use in peacekeeping operations, and the two countries would also deepen their defence education programs.

“I look forward very much to hosting the cadets from the Indonesian National Armed Forces studying at Australian defence education facilities, building relationships among future leaders from both sides,” Dutton said.

Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and defence minister Peter Dutton meet with Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi and defence minister Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta.
Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and defence minister Peter Dutton meet with Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi and defence minister Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta. Photograph: Indonesian Foreign Ministry/Reuters

Dutton and Payne met with their counterparts for a “2+2” meeting in Jakarta, resulting in a series of agreements including on countering terrorism and violent extremism, and on working together on cyber issues.

Payne said Australia and Indonesia would also work with Pacific island nations “to further support the development and economic prosperity of the region, including related to Covid-19 recovery” and women and children’s rights.

In an implicit swipe at China, Payne said Australia wanted to see an Indo-Pacific region that “embraces engagement, and cooperation, that upholds the rights and sovereignty of countries without coercion, regardless of their size and power”.

“To maintain that prosperity and security, we welcome a region that supports a level playing field based on rules and norms, to ensure healthy competition, rather than competition that risks sliding into instability or conflict,” Payne said.

Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, thanked Australia for sending Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccines and medical supplies to help the country through what she called a “difficult time”.

She said Indonesia was closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan and continued to “underline the importance of building an inclusive government”.

“Indonesia hopes that Afghanistan is not used as the breeding and training ground for terrorist organisations and activities that threaten peace and stability in the region,” she said.

“Indonesia also hopes that human rights especially the rights of women and girls, are continuously respected and promoted.”

Amnesty International called on Payne and Dutton to “raise pressing human rights issues” during their meetings with international counterparts, including in Indonesia, where the rights group has previously accused security personnel of using “excessive force” against Papuan protesters.

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