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Indonesia offers way to defuse tensions over US Marines Base in Darwin

Julia Gillard and Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Photo: AP The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has given Julia Gillard ...

Julia Gillard and Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono Photo: AP

The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has given Julia Gillard a novel suggestion to defuse tensions surrounding the new training hub for Australian and US troops near Darwin: they should conduct military exercises with Chinese soldiers and sailors.

Dr Yudhoyono made the proposal yesterday after the Prime Minister reassured him that the presence of 2500 US Marines in northern Australia was not aimed at any particular nation and would enhance responses to natural disasters in the region.
According to Indonesian officials present at the meeting of the leaders, Dr Yudhoyono told Ms Gillard it ''was good to clear up the intention because it might not be well received in some quarters''.

Ms Gillard then told Dr Yudhoyono that
the US and Australian forces could train with Indonesian military personnel to improve disaster management.
''After Ms Gillard's explanation, SBY [Dr Yudhoyono] was very happy,'' said a presidential spokesman, Julian Aldrin Pasha. ''SBY suggested that the military training involved all ASEAN members and that she should also invite China.''

Involving China would improve trust with the US, particularly given tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Indonesian leader said, according to accounts given to the Herald. It would also increase stability and provide a security environment conducive to economic growth, he said.

Ms Gillard did not mention the proposal during a briefing with reporters and was unavailable for comment late yesterday because she was on a plane returning to Australia.
''President Yudhoyono certainly understands that this is a step forward in our defence co-operation with the United States,'' she said earlier.

Ms Gillard also announced that Australia would give Indonesia up to four used Hercules aircraft. The planes require repairs but ''these aircraft are very important to the movement of people, equipment and food during times of difficulty'', she said.

The ''gift'' highlights the fact that whatever reservations Indonesia may have about the Darwin military training hub, it maintains close defence links with Australia.

Moreover, three days ago, the US announced it was selling Indonesia 24 second-hand F-16 fighter jets at knockdown prices, reinforcing the Americans' enduring defence ties with a country that is nonetheless stridently non-aligned.

The two leaders also announced a $112 million food security program to help boost the productivity of Indonesian farmers. One million farmers, many of them impoverished, are expected to benefit.





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