As Widodo nears his tenure’s end, will an Australia visit burnish his reputation?

Following a brief working visit to Australia, Indonesian president Joko Widodo will return to Jakarta with a substantial farewell gift in hand: easier visa rules for Indonesian business travellers. Indonesia has long chafed at the current visa inequality. Australians travelling to Indonesia enjoy $50 visas on arrival but Indonesians coming to Australia usually have to fork out three or four times as much and may have to submit to a medical examination before waiting for a visa to be issued.

Dozens of other nations permit Indonesians to visit without visas or offer them visas on arrival. Australia’s prickly visa requirements have been an on-going irritant for Indonesia, sometimes seen by the Muslim-majority giant to the north as a signal of Australia’s suspicion and distrust.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese yesterday (Tuesday) announced Australia’s stringent visa rules would be loosened: a sign of strengthening relations between the two nations. “Our countries continue to choose to draw closer together as economic partners, as security partners, and as partners in the global transition to net zero,” Mr Albanese said, following a leaders’ meeting at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

One concrete example of this ‘drawing together’: Indonesians will soon be eligible for extended Australian business visas valid for three to five years and ten-year Australian frequent traveller visas.

Winding up a visit aimed at nourishing economic cooperation and trade ties, this partial visa win will burnish Mr Widodo’s legacy in Indonesia. Nearing the constitutionally-mandated end of his ten-year tenure, the Indonesian president – widely known as Jokowi – remains hugely popular in Indonesia and he has repeatedly pushed for a relaxation of Australian visa rules to boost cooperation and understanding between the two nations.

In the interests of this increased understanding, it was announced during his visit three Australian universities – Western Sydney University, Deakin University and Central Queensland University – will establish campuses in Indonesia, following in the footsteps of Monash University.

Looking to the future, Mr Widodo is keen to jump-start Indonesia into the fast-expanding world of green technology. In Sydney he met with a range of Australian business leaders and called for cooperation in the development and manufacture of low-emissions technology.

Both Indonesia and Australia have substantial reserves of electric vehicle (EV) components and Australia is the world’s largest supplier of lithium, an essential component of EV batteries. Yet both nations are lagging in the race to grab EV market share.

Indonesia hopes to work with Australia to boost its EV production and carve out a slice of the increasingly lucrative EV market. “Indonesia and Australia must build a more substantive and strategic economic cooperation through the joint production of EV batteries,” the Indonesian president said.

Work is also underway to strengthen cooperative defence ties between Australia and Indonesia, now overshadowed by AUKUS, the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Mr Albanese said Australia understands the security, stability and economic success of massive Indonesia is essential to keep the Indo-Pacific region on a trajectory of peaceful growth and increasing cooperation.

“As Australians feel the pressure from global economic challenges, it’s important that we’re investing in trading relationships to grow our economy, support good jobs and strengthen our supply chains,” Mr Albanese said. “And of course, there are few more important trading partners to us than Indonesia.”

In a joint communique, Mr Albanese and Mr Widodo “strongly deplored” Russian aggression against Ukraine and noted the “worsening crisis” in Myanmar, calling on the military junta to cease violence and allow unimpeded humanitarian assistance.

Indonesia will elect a new president early next year and many hope that Mr Widodo’s successor will also look for increased world-wide peace and stability and not veer too far from the relations he has forged with Australia and in the region.