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On 11:56 PM

Australia-Indonesia relationship faces months of uncertainty

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Jakarta: Should Australia move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

It's now more than two weeks since Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged the proposal on the eve of the Wentworth byelection, and the diplomatic repercussions are still being felt.

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While there is little doubt that such a move would please US President Donald Trump - were he to notice it - as it would align Canberra with Washington's decision to move their embassy earlier this year, the proposal has roiled the Australian foreign policy establishment because of the potential impact on our relationship with near-neighbour Indonesia.

Malcolm Turnbull's blunt assessment of what would happen if the proposal was implemented - &qu ot;it would be met with a very negative reaction in Indonesia" - during his visit to Bali this week for meetings with Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has caused bad blood between the prime minister and his predecessor and kicked along debate.

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It's in that context that the warning from Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, Indonesia's ambassador in Canberra from 2012 to 2017 and a friend of Australia, should be understood.

"The issue of Palestine, for the people of Indonesia, is very deep inside their hearts," he says.

Nadjib Riphat Kesoema (right) welcomes Tony Abbott to Bali in 2013.

Nadjib Riphat Kesoema (right) welcomes Tony Abbott to Bali in 2013.Credit:Al ex Ellinghausen

"The [potential] move of your embassy of course makes people - many people and many organisations - think that this is not a friendly move towards Indonesia.

"It's difficult for the [Indonesian] government to convince the people that this is nothing to do with our [two nations'] friendship."

To that end, Nadjib says Australia should pursue a foreign policy more independent of the US and "become more part of Asia".

That's a polite way of suggesting Australia should not move its embassy to Jerusalem, nor recognise the city as Israel's capital.

Privately, allies of Turnbull say he is dismayed by his successor's byelection-eve embassy proposal, fearing it could risk the friendship and trade deal between the two nations, and hopeful the newish government in Canberra backs down.

Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko    Widodo in November 2015. The two men invested considerable political effort in the trade deal between their countries.

Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko Widodo in November 2015. The two men invested considerable political effort in the trade deal between their countries.Credit:AP

The Australian government had already examined the possibility of moving the embassy to Jerusalem months ago, following Trump's move, with cabinet's National Security Committee informally considering - and dismissing - the idea.

The former PM struck up a close relationship with Jokowi and the pair were due to sign the long-delayed Indonesia-Australia free trade deal at the Oceans Conference this week.

While the signing didn't take place, Turnbull said publicly he believed there was no reason the agreement wouldn't be signed in the next few weeks.

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Senior ministers in the Morrison government have told Fairfax Media that the concern over the embassy proposal is primarily coming from the Australian side and that their Indonesian counterparts have not raised the issue with them in private meetings.

In Jakarta, however, it's a little more complicated than that.

When Trump announced the US embassy would move, it sparked protests on the streets of the Indonesian capital.

That hasn't happened yet following Morrison's announcement of a review, but if Australia presses ahead and implements the move, such protests are possible.

The Palestinian flag (seen here top right) is a common sight at mass protests in Jakarta.

The Palestinian flag (seen here top right) is a common sight at mass protests in Jakarta.Credit:Dewi Nurcahyani

For Indonesians, the rights of the Palestinians are a very sensitive issue.

The constitution of Indonesia, promulgated in 1945, states clearly that independence is the right of all nations and that colonialism must be abolished.

It's through that prism - Israel as colonisers, and the Palestinians as people who have a right to a homeland - that the issue is understood by many Indonesians.

Publicly, the Indonesian government has been critical of the proposal. Privately, hard heads in Kemlu, Indonesia's foreign ministry, say they understand the announcement was made for domestic political reasons.

"We understand it was about Wentworth. But we have asked the Australians not to follow t hrough on this," says one seasoned observer.

In Jakarta, officials understand that Scott Morrison's Jerusalem proposal was floated in the context of a key byelection. But they are watching for the next move.

In Jakarta, officials understand that Scott Morrison's Jerusalem proposal was floated in the context of a key byelection. But they are watching for the next move.Credit:AAP

Turnbull's assessment of the potential damage to the bilateral relationship if the embassy move goes ahead is accurate.

At this stage, the free trade agreement is not at risk of not being signed, but ratification of the document by Indonesia's parliament could be delayed if the embassy move goes ahead.

And as the April 2019 Indonesian elections approach, the opposition parties - led by presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, an ardent nationalist who has thus far refused to buy into the dispute - could change course and use the issue to criticise Jokowi for doing the trade deal with Australia.

If that happens, and protests begin from hardline pro-Palestinian groups in Indonesia, the heat will be on Jokowi to delay or even drop the free trade deal.

Joko Widodo will want to avoid negative publicity as he confronts presidential rival Prabowo Subianto (pictured).

Joko Widodo will want to avoid negative publicity as he confronts presidential rival Prabowo Subianto (pictured).Credit:AP

In a choice between backin g the Palestinian cause and securing re-election, or backing the free trade deal, Australia will lose out.

Evi Fitriani, an international relations academic at the University of Indonesia, is in no doubt that moving the embassy would affect bilateral relations and potentially delay the free trade deal.

"I think it can affect IA-CEPA [the trade deal]. Because in so many occasions Australia always says that both of us share the same values on many things, including human rights. In fact, if Australia considers moving its embassy to Jerusalem it is not in accordance with sharing the same values because Israel is so not pro-human rights in its action towards Palestine," she says.

"This issue is quite sensitive here in Indonesia now because the president is facing an election year. His opponents could exploit the situation if the government does not react properly to this issue.

An injured Palestinian youth receives treatment in a fie   ld clinic after being shot by Israeli troops during a protest in the Gaza Strip in July.

An injured Palestinian youth receives treatment in a field clinic after being shot by Israeli troops during a protest in the Gaza Strip in July.Credit:AP

"I don’t think it will go as far as cutting off diplomatic ties, but it could somehow push the signing of IA-CEPA until after the presidential election."

At the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, research fellow Aaron Connelly says that at this stage it appears the Morrison proposal does not appear to have been "as damaging as some in Canberra have initially suggested, and feared. But keep in mind, the political context can change."

He says that much will hinge on whether the move actually goes ahead and whether Prabowo, or more likely his political allies, decide to use the issue to wedge Jokowi as the election draws closer.

"Indonesian officials and leaders read the newspapers, and they understand the domestic political context in which [the proposal] was made. They understand that no decision has yet been taken," he says.

"Many elites were annoyed by the timing [Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was in Jakarta when Canberra announced the review], but they don’t want to damage the relationship with Canberra over it.

"The politics of this issue in Indonesia are unpredictable, and could shift rapidly. A decision to go ahead with moving the embassy to Jerusalem during the Indonesian presidential campaign risks taking control of the politics of the issue away from the elites and putting it into the volatile cauldron of Indonesian electoral politics. It is hard to anticipate how that will affect the relationship."

Until the review of the embassy move - likely by the end of the year - is completed by the Australian government, relations between Jakarta and Canberra will remain more uncertain than they have been for some time.

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James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.

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On 11:56 PM

Australia-Indonesia relationship faces months of uncertainty

Advertisement

Jakarta: Should Australia move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

It's now more than two weeks since Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged the proposal on the eve of the Wentworth byelection, and the diplomatic repercussions are still being felt.

Replay

Replay Video
Loading
Play Video
Play Video

While there is little doubt that such a move would please US President Donald Trump - were he to notice it - as it would align Canberra with Washington's decision to move their embassy earlier this year, the proposal has roiled the Australian foreign policy establishment because of the potential impact on our relationship with near-neighbour Indonesia.

Malcolm Turnbull's blunt assessment of what would happen if the proposal was implemented - &qu ot;it would be met with a very negative reaction in Indonesia" - during his visit to Bali this week for meetings with Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has caused bad blood between the prime minister and his predecessor and kicked along debate.

Advertisement

It's in that context that the warning from Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, Indonesia's ambassador in Canberra from 2012 to 2017 and a friend of Australia, should be understood.

"The issue of Palestine, for the people of Indonesia, is very deep inside their hearts," he says.

Nadjib Riphat Kesoema (right) welcomes Tony Abbott to Bali in 2013.

Nadjib Riphat Kesoema (right) welcomes Tony Abbott to Bali in 2013.Credit:Al ex Ellinghausen

"The [potential] move of your embassy of course makes people - many people and many organisations - think that this is not a friendly move towards Indonesia.

"It's difficult for the [Indonesian] government to convince the people that this is nothing to do with our [two nations'] friendship."

To that end, Nadjib says Australia should pursue a foreign policy more independent of the US and "become more part of Asia".

That's a polite way of suggesting Australia should not move its embassy to Jerusalem, nor recognise the city as Israel's capital.

Privately, allies of Turnbull say he is dismayed by his successor's byelection-eve embassy proposal, fearing it could risk the friendship and trade deal between the two nations, and hopeful the newish government in Canberra backs down.

Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko    Widodo in November 2015. The two men invested considerable political effort in the trade deal between their countries.

Then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko Widodo in November 2015. The two men invested considerable political effort in the trade deal between their countries.Credit:AP

The Australian government had already examined the possibility of moving the embassy to Jerusalem months ago, following Trump's move, with cabinet's National Security Committee informally considering - and dismissing - the idea.

The former PM struck up a close relationship with Jokowi and the pair were due to sign the long-delayed Indonesia-Australia free trade deal at the Oceans Conference this week.

While the signing didn't take place, Turnbull said publicly he believed there was no reason the agreement wouldn't be signed in the next few weeks.

Loading

Senior ministers in the Morrison government have told Fairfax Media that the concern over the embassy proposal is primarily coming from the Australian side and that their Indonesian counterparts have not raised the issue with them in private meetings.

In Jakarta, however, it's a little more complicated than that.

When Trump announced the US embassy would move, it sparked protests on the streets of the Indonesian capital.

That hasn't happened yet following Morrison's announcement of a review, but if Australia presses ahead and implements the move, such protests are possible.

The Palestinian flag (seen here top right) is a common sight at mass protests in Jakarta.

The Palestinian flag (seen here top right) is a common sight at mass protests in Jakarta.Credit:Dewi Nurcahyani

For Indonesians, the rights of the Palestinians are a very sensitive issue.

The constitution of Indonesia, promulgated in 1945, states clearly that independence is the right of all nations and that colonialism must be abolished.

It's through that prism - Israel as colonisers, and the Palestinians as people who have a right to a homeland - that the issue is understood by many Indonesians.

Publicly, the Indonesian government has been critical of the proposal. Privately, hard heads in Kemlu, Indonesia's foreign ministry, say they understand the announcement was made for domestic political reasons.

"We understand it was about Wentworth. But we have asked the Australians not to follow t hrough on this," says one seasoned observer.

In Jakarta, officials understand that Scott Morrison's Jerusalem proposal was floated in the context of a key byelection. But they are watching for the next move.

In Jakarta, officials understand that Scott Morrison's Jerusalem proposal was floated in the context of a key byelection. But they are watching for the next move.Credit:AAP

Turnbull's assessment of the potential damage to the bilateral relationship if the embassy move goes ahead is accurate.

At this stage, the free trade agreement is not at risk of not being signed, but ratification of the document by Indonesia's parliament could be delayed if the embassy move goes ahead.

And as the April 2019 Indonesian elections approach, the opposition parties - led by presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, an ardent nationalist who has thus far refused to buy into the dispute - could change course and use the issue to criticise Jokowi for doing the trade deal with Australia.

If that happens, and protests begin from hardline pro-Palestinian groups in Indonesia, the heat will be on Jokowi to delay or even drop the free trade deal.

Joko Widodo will want to avoid negative publicity as he confronts presidential rival Prabowo Subianto (pictured).

Joko Widodo will want to avoid negative publicity as he confronts presidential rival Prabowo Subianto (pictured).Credit:AP

In a choice between backin g the Palestinian cause and securing re-election, or backing the free trade deal, Australia will lose out.

Evi Fitriani, an international relations academic at the University of Indonesia, is in no doubt that moving the embassy would affect bilateral relations and potentially delay the free trade deal.

"I think it can affect IA-CEPA [the trade deal]. Because in so many occasions Australia always says that both of us share the same values on many things, including human rights. In fact, if Australia considers moving its embassy to Jerusalem it is not in accordance with sharing the same values because Israel is so not pro-human rights in its action towards Palestine," she says.

"This issue is quite sensitive here in Indonesia now because the president is facing an election year. His opponents could exploit the situation if the government does not react properly to this issue.

An injured Palestinian youth receives treatment in a fie   ld clinic after being shot by Israeli troops during a protest in the Gaza Strip in July.

An injured Palestinian youth receives treatment in a field clinic after being shot by Israeli troops during a protest in the Gaza Strip in July.Credit:AP

"I don’t think it will go as far as cutting off diplomatic ties, but it could somehow push the signing of IA-CEPA until after the presidential election."

At the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, research fellow Aaron Connelly says that at this stage it appears the Morrison proposal does not appear to have been "as damaging as some in Canberra have initially suggested, and feared. But keep in mind, the political context can change."

He says that much will hinge on whether the move actually goes ahead and whether Prabowo, or more likely his political allies, decide to use the issue to wedge Jokowi as the election draws closer.

"Indonesian officials and leaders read the newspapers, and they understand the domestic political context in which [the proposal] was made. They understand that no decision has yet been taken," he says.

"Many elites were annoyed by the timing [Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki was in Jakarta when Canberra announced the review], but they don’t want to damage the relationship with Canberra over it.

"The politics of this issue in Indonesia are unpredictable, and could shift rapidly. A decision to go ahead with moving the embassy to Jerusalem during the Indonesian presidential campaign risks taking control of the politics of the issue away from the elites and putting it into the volatile cauldron of Indonesian electoral politics. It is hard to anticipate how that will affect the relationship."

Until the review of the embassy move - likely by the end of the year - is completed by the Australian government, relations between Jakarta and Canberra will remain more uncertain than they have been for some time.

License this article
  • Indonesia
  • Scott Morrison
  • Analysis
James Massola
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+

James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions.

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On 10:37 AM

More body parts found from crashed Indonesian jet

More body parts found from crashed Indonesian jet

Update: October, 30/2018 - 10:00
Debris from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province, on Monday. All 189 passengers and crew aboard a crashed Indonesian Lion Air jet were "likely" killed in the accident, the search and rescue agency said on Monday, as it announced it had found human remains. - AFP/VNA Photo
Viet Nam News

JAKARTA â€" Indonesian search teams on Tuesday recovered more remains at the site of a crashed Lion Air jet that plunged into the sea with 189 people aboard, a s a report said it had suffered an instrument malfunction the day before.

The Boeing-737 MAX, which went into service just months ago, plunged into the Java Sea moments after it had asked to return to Jakarta on Monday.

Flight JT 610 sped up as it suddenly lost altitude and then vanished from radar 13 minutes after take-off, with authorities saying witnesses saw the jet plunge into the water.

Dozens of divers are taking part in the recovery effort.

Search teams have filled ten body bags with limbs and other human remains, Muhammad Syaugi, head of Indonesian national search and rescue agency told Metro TV, saying they will be taken to Jakarta for identifiation.

Another 14 bags filled with debris have also been collected, he said, adding that the underwater search for the plane would continue on Tuesday.

Shoes, items of clothing and a wallet are among the items found.

"We hope we can see the plane’s ma in body -- everything on the surface of the water has been collected," Syaugi said.

The agency all but ruled out finding any survivors late on Monday, citing the discovery of body parts that suggested a high impact crash in water some 30-40 metres deep off the coast of Indonesia’s Java island.

"We are prioritising finding the main wreckage of the plane using five war ships equipped with sonar to detect metal underwater," said Yusuf Latif, spokesman of Indonesian search and rescue agency.

Both the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder are still missing.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) said there were 178 adult passengers, one child, two infants, two pilots and six cabin crew on board flight JT 610.

Among them were 20 Indonesian finance ministry employees and Andrea Manfredi, an Italian former professional cyclist.

’Unreliable’

The plane had been en route to Pangkal Pinang city, a jumping off point for beach-and-sun seeking tourists on nearby Belitung island, when it dropped out of contact around 6:30am (2330 GMT).

Lion Air said the plane had only gone into service in August.

The pilot and co-pilot had more than 11,000 hours of flying time between them and had recent medical checkups and drug testing, it added.

On Monday, Lion Air chief Edward Sirait acknowledged the plane had an unspecified technical issue fixed in Bali before it was flown back to Jakarta, calling it "normal procedure".

A technical logbook detailed an "unreliable" airspeed reading instrument on the Bali-Jakarta flight on Sunday and different altitude readings on the captain and first officer’s instruments, according to the BBC.

Copies of several Lion Air technical documents have been circulating on social media, but they could not be immediately confirmed as auth entic.

The company did not return phones calls seeking comment.

Boeing suspended release of the 737 MAX just days before its first commercial delivery last year due to an engine issue, according to airline safety and product review site airlineratings.com.

It said the engines were a product of a joint venture between US-based General Electric and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines.

Lion Air, Indonesia’s biggest budget airline which has been engaged in huge expansion, announced earlier this year it was buying 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10 jets for $6.24 billion.

Indonesia’s air travel industry is booming, with the number of domestic passengers growing significantly over the past decade, but it has acquired a reputation for poor regulation and its airlines had previously been banned from US and European airspace.

Lion has been involved in a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash and a collision between two Lion Air planes at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta airport. â€" AFP

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See also:

  • Apple Watch supplier under fire over China student labour (October, 30 2018)
  • Thousands of US troops head for southern border (October, 30 2018)
  • German nurse serial killer on trial over 100 deaths (October, 30 2018)
  • Africa governance gains hampered by security, job fears: study (October, 29 2018)
  • Lion Air crash: Search and rescue efforts underway for sunken plane with 189 people on board (October, 29 2018)
  • ‘Tropical Trump’ Bolsonaro elected Brazil president (October, 29 2018)
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On 10:37 AM

Indonesia's VP candidate Sandiaga Uno says economy at top of his team's agenda

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Login"; document.querySelector('body').innerHTML += noteHTML; document.querySelector('.timeoutmsg-area .close-button').addEventListener('click', function() { document.querySelector('.timeoutmsg-area').classList.add('hidden'); }); } } function timeoutNote() { var oneMin = 60000; var timeDur = 120; var timeoutDuration = timeDur * oneMin; setTimeout(timeoutEvt ,timeoutDuration); } Indonesia's V-P candidate Sandiaga Uno says economy at top of his team's agenda
Former businessman Sandiaga Uno told The Straits Times that he was very shocked to be selected as retired three-star general Prabowo Subianto's running mate for the upcoming presidential election.
Former businessman Sandiaga Uno told The Straits Times that he was very shocked to be selected as retired three-star general Prabowo Subianto's running mate for the upcoming presidential election.
  Former businessman Sandiaga Uno told The Straits Times that he was very shocked to be selected as re   tired three-star general Prabowo Subianto's running mate for the upcoming presidential election.
Former businessman Sandiaga Uno told The Straits Times that he was very shocked to be selected as retired three-star general Prabowo Subianto's running mate for the upcoming presidential election.
PublishedOct 29, 2018, 10:55 pm SGTUpdatedOct 30, 2018, 1:29 am

SINGAPORE - Former businessman Sandiaga Uno was a relative unknown in Indonesian politics until he announced in 2016 he was running for the deputy governor post in the Jakarta elections â€" which he won last year.

Then, this year, the 49-year-old again created waves when he left his post to contest in next April's presidential election as a running mate of retired three-star general Prabowo Subianto, 67. The pair will challenge President Joko Widodo, 57, who is seeking a second term, and his vice-presidential pick, 75-year-old Muslim cleric Ma'ruf Amin.

M r Sandiaga told The Straits Times in an interview on Monday (Oct 29) ahead of his talk on "Indonesia's Future Economy" organised by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute that he was not ambitious and it was a "last-minute decision" by Mr Prabowo, 67, who chairs the Gerindra Party.

"I was very shocked... Mr Prabowo said 'You have the necessary background for the economy, and secondly you represent the young generation'," he said.

Mr Sandiaga had served as vice-president of the Small and Medium Enterprises at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin) from 2009 to 2010.

He said he was living and working in Singapore as an investment manager when he found himself jobless after the company he worked for collapsed during the financial crisis in 1997 to 1998, forcing him to return to Indonesia.

He set up a small investment firm, Saratoga Capital, and it grew to become one of Indonesia's largest. He said: & quot;I went back to Indonesia with almost zero or negative net worth. I built my business from zero and Indonesia has been so kind to me. Indonesia has provided me with unimaginable fortune and, for that, I need to pay back to my country."

He was named by Forbes magazine in 2013 as the 47th richest man in Indonesia with a net worth of US$460 million (S$636 million).

The gubernatorial election in 2017 was widely-regarded as divisive, dominated by issues of race and religion, and there were fears these would emerge in the ongoing presidential election. But Mr Sandiaga said their focus will be on the economy.

These include an overhaul of labour laws, measures to boost domestic and foreign investment and bread-and-butter issues such as creating employment for youths and lowering the cost of living.

He sparked a political debate this month (Oct 20) when he said the price of a plate of chicken ric e is more expensive in Indonesia than in Singapore. He said he was merely citing World Bank figures comparing prices of the same quality of rice and chicken feet.

"It wakes people up. People thought that's cheeky but it gets people's attention that our food prices are high," he said unapologetically.

During his 90-minute presentation on Monday followed by a question-and-answer session at Orchard Hotel, he discussed a wide range of economic issues from tax amnesty and digital economy to the uncertainty of laws in Indonesia, which makes the business climate unpredictable for investors.

"It's like playing a soccer match and in the middle of the match, you move the goalpost," he said, to laughter.

His wealth may also prove a bane to him. Mr Sandiaga has been accused of paying 500 billion rupiah (S$45.4 million) each to coalition parties National Mandate Party (PAN) and the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) so they would choose him as a vice-presidential candidate. He furiously denied this.

"I'm under a magnifying glass, people are looking at me with a microscope. I won't do something silly like that. I won't want to ruin my career in politics. Politicians come and go, integrity stays," he said.

On his name appearing in the "Panama Papers" scandal, detailing his offshore companies, he said: "Offshore structures are common to making investments... and it's all perfectly legal. I have nothing to hide."

Being boyish-looking and also new to the political scene, he has also been called a "politikus kemaren sore" or greenhorn politician. But he is only focused on campaigning to win people's hearts.

While he and Mr Prabowo may be trailing on popularity polls, he believes they are making "good progress".

Mr Sandiaga spoke to The Straits Times on arrival to Singapore by ferry from nearby Batam, where he had been campaigning all morning.

Seated in a packed car with his aides on the way to his talk, he said of campaigning: "It's tough... I had five events in Batam, I changed shirt three times, I was planning to take a nap but there are some friends joining from Batam just to speak to me on the ferry ride."

However, the father of three has no regrets leaving the business world and all directorships to pursue a life in politics.

"The risk in politics is that you are suddenly thrown into a position that’s quite unpredictable, but that’s life in the political fast lane in Indonesia,” he said.

"I'm grateful, I'm very fortunate God has been so nice to me and Indonesia has been so nice to me."

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  • ELECTIONS

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On 7:45 PM

Late night text messages reveal Indonesia's anger over Jerusalem embassy announcement

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Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi’s late-night flurry of angry text messages to Australian counterpart Marise Payne was the first direct contact between the two over the Morrison government’s controversial Jerusalem announcement.

Extraordinary exchanges in a Senate estimates hearing on Thursday morning have also revealed the government decided to announce its review of Australia’s stances on Jerusalem and the Iran nuclear deal without consulting a single official from the departments of Foreign Affairs, Defence or Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne acknowledged under questioning from Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong that she had not initiated contact herself with Ms Marsudi.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne during a Senate Estimates Committee hearing.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne during a Senate Estimates Committee hearing.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

As the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia’s response to such a dramatic announcement on a sensitive question regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was expected to be a sensitive matter for Australia.

Instead, Australia’s Ambassador in Jakarta, Gary Quinlan, spoke to Ms Marsudi on the evening of Monday October 15, hours before Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Senator Payne announced the review the next morning.

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Ms Marsudi’s angry message s - which were leaked to Seven News last week - came through to Senator Payne late that night. She then spoke to Ms Marsudi the next day but only after the announcement had been formally made.

“The first contact between Foreign Minister Marsudi and yourself was the foreign minister’s … messages expressing deep concern at the announcement late at night on the Monday in relation to this announcement?” Senator Wong asked.

Senator Payne replied: “Yes.”

“So you didn’t seek to call her?”

“No, that briefing process was taking place through DFAT.”

Senator Payne acknowledged she did not actually know Mr Quinlan was calling Ms Marsudi on Monday night, though she knew that “formal processes were in place for making contact both here in Canberra and in Jakarta”.

In the blistering WhatsApp messages, Ms Marsudi warned that Australia's talk of recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital would be a "really big blow" tha t "will affect bilateral relations and would "slap Indonesia's face on the Palestine issue".

"Is it really necessary to do this on Tuesday?" Ms Marsudi wrote, in a reference to the fact she happened to be hosting Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki that day in Jakarta.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno MarsudiCredit:AP

The hearing underscored the frantic nature of the planning of the announcement.

Senator Payne revealed she herself learnt of it only on Sunday, October 14, just two days before it was made.

The government’s “leadership group” - the top cabinet ministers and parliamentary leaders - then discussed it the next morning and agreed to go ahead.

Only then did they inform top officials - the government’s own policy experts - on Monday afternoon. That left Australian diplomats a matter of hours to provide advice on how to make the announcement and to brief key countries including Indonesia.

The Indonesian Ambassador Kristiarto Legowo was informed 9pm Monday by senior DFAT official Tony Sheehan.

Senator Wong repeatedly criticised the fact the media were briefed on the plans on the Monday afternoon before top Defence brass and foreign countries.

Mr Morrison and Senator Payne announced the review four days before the Wentworth byelection that he would consider following US President Donald Trump in recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital - a controversial idea because the territorial status of the ancient city remains unresolved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr Morrison also announced he would review Australia’s support for the Iran nuclear deal, although the government has not yet explained how it would work.

Both measures were regarded as popular with the Jewish community, which made up 12.5 percent of the population in Wentworth.

Senator Payne maintained she did not leak Ms Marsudi's WhatsApp messages herself and was confident no other minister had done so, give she had shared and discussed just one of the messages with Mr Morrison and no one else.

She repeatedly stated that the announcement was only about a “review without prejudice” regarding Jerusalem and that this was a “legitimate question for the government to examine”.

She refused to say whether her initial conversation with Mr Morrison on the Sunday included discussion of the Wentworth byelection.

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David Wroe
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David Wroe is the defence and national security correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, base d at Parliament House

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On 12:39 AM

Relations with Malaysia stable, ties with Indonesia good: PM Lee

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Login"; document.querySelector('body').innerHTML += noteHTML; document.querySelector('.timeoutmsg-area .close-button').addEventListener('click', function() { document.querySelector('.timeoutmsg-area').classList.add('hidden'); }); } } function timeoutNote() { var oneMin = 60000; var timeDur = 120; var timeoutDuration = timeDur * oneMin; setTimeout(timeoutEvt ,timeoutDuration); } Relations with Malaysia stable, ties with Indonesia good: PM Lee
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Indonesian President Joko Widodo at a retreat in Bali earlier this month.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Indonesian President Joko Widodo at a retreat in Bali earlier this month.
Published10 hours ago

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will travel to Putrajaya to meet his Malaysian counterpart, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, for a leaders' retreat next month.

It will take place about 10 days after Dr Mahathir comes to Singapore for the Asean Summit, PM Lee said at a recent dialogue with Singaporeans.

Singapore, as the Asean chair this year, is hosting the summit that will take place from Nov 11 to 15.

The retreat with Dr Mahathir is an annual meeting between the leaders of Singapo re and Malaysia.

PM Lee said Singapore's relations with Malaysia are stable.

"The High-Speed Rail (HSR) was an issue potentially, but we worked out a two-year deferment for the HSR project and that was a constructive resolution of what could have been a spiky dispute," he said.

He added: "I hope that at the retreat, we will be able to look ahead, to discuss win-win opportunities in order to deepen our cooperation and friendship."

Earlier this month, PM Lee was in Bali for another annual retreat. That was with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi.

Ties with Indonesia are good, the Prime Minister said. "Economic cooperation is progressing, and President Jokowi hopes to attract more Singapore investments."

PM Lee noted that Indonesia is going to hold national elections in April next year.

"We hope to keep relations stable during their campaign and to pick up our cooperation with them afterwards."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2018, with the headline 'Relations with Malaysia stable, ties with Indonesia good: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe Topics:
  • LEE HSIEN LOONG
  • MALAYSIA
  • INDONESIA

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