Australia leader visits Indonesia in bid to repair ties strained over April executions

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tried to mend fences with Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, in his first trip to Asia on Thursday since taking office two months ago.

Turnbull’s one-day visit is seen as a chance to repair ties damaged by a row over the executions in April of two Australians who were convicted on drug trafficking charges.

His predecessor, Tony Abbott, withdrew the ambassador in protest but he returned a month later. A year earlier, Indonesia had temporarily recalled its ambassador over the alleged phone bugging by Australia of then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and nine ministers in 2009.

Turnbull and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo agreed to boost trade and investment in infrastructure and the cattle industry as well as official and business visits in order to help move relations forward.

“I couldn’t have asked for a warmer or more gracious welcome by yourself and so many of your ministerial colleagues,” Turnbull told the Indonesian leader.

Widodo thanked Australia for sending two water bombing planes to fight Indonesian forest fires last month and welcomed Australian plans to open a diplomatic post on the resort island of Bali.

Bilateral trade stands at $10.6 billion, and Australian investment in Indonesia is worth $647.3 million in total of 226 projects. Over 1 million Australian tourists visit Bali each year.

Turnbull told reporters in a news conference that a large delegation of more than 340 businesspeople is expected to visit Indonesia next week. Indonesia is also the largest export market for Australian live cattle.

His visit was only his second overseas trip as prime minister and underscores the importance that Australia places on a sometimes fractious bilateral relationship. Turnbull visited New Zealand last month.