Both sides give ground
Indonesian President Yudhoyono says bilateral talks on asylum seekers are now possible, while Tony Abbott says Australia will consult Indonesia over his government's 'tow-back' policy.PT7M13S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2uph1 620 349 October 1, 2013
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Tony Abbott has emerged from bilateral talks with his Indonesian counterpart, President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono, genuinely able to say that the bilateral relationship has been strengthened.
Quite an achievement given the dire warnings of imminent relationship breakdown over his ultra-tough border protection policies.
Confident: Prime Minister Tony Abbott talks with Suryo Bambang Sulisto. Photo: AP
On those grounds alone, Abbott's first visit to Jakarta must be judged a success even if he is yet to bench his campaign habit of alliterative three word groupings. Their talks were, he said, ''candid, constructive, and collegial''. Nothing had been left ''off the table''.
This, presumably, was code for ''yes, our bellicose pre-election rhetoric and uncompromising policies of turning back boats, buying up fishing vessels, and even paying Indonesian officials for information, did come up, but it was not a deal breaker after all''.
Surprisingly, the newly elected Abbott was not just sure-footed but flexible, showing no need for ''L-plates'' on his first outing on the international stage. Rather, he projected strength and purpose in Australia's interests, and respect and sensitivity for the host country.
The decision to leave his Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison at home was wise. A 20-strong Australian business delegation also allowed Mr Abbott to emphasise the positives of the commercial relationship and other areas of most identifiable mutual benefit.
Progress has been made on business-to-business links, trade and investment, food security, education and importantly on boats.
Indeed the diplomatic triumph of Abbott's ''more Jakarta, less Geneva'' approach has been to reinforce in the Indonesian consciousness Australia's determination to simultaneously deepen the relationship, while actually strengthening Australia's borders.
These things had been viewed as inimical. Abbott's bold proposition, and it is one being considered anew by the Indonesians, is that the two things can be complementary.
He has said to Jakarta, we understand and respect your need for absolute territorial sovereignty, precisely because we feel the same way about ours. It makes sense.
That said, the finer details of whatever might be done jointly to address the scourge of people smuggling are either being tightly held or more likely are simply yet to be identified.
Abbott's achievement is orthodox diplomacy: building in wriggle room, making progress where the parties can, and putting thorny issues into a longer term framework.
The challenge in the next few months is to make material progress on boats because this is the burning issue. Indeed, Abbott made the point that everything else will be easier once it is neutralised.
The watchwords now are co-operation and respect, and in a very real sense this means the policy itself is necessarily undergoing a change from one of unilateral intention to one of joint operation.