Julie Bishop to meet Indonesia’s FM next week as diplomatic tensions ease

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is expected to meet her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi next week, indicating that relations between the two countries are warming after the execution of the Bali nine duo and boat turn-backs.

Indonesian officials told Fairfax Media the meeting will take place on the sidelines of the upcoming ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

It will be the first by any ministers from the two countries since Australia withdrew its ambassador to Jakarta, Paul Grigson, in protest at the death by firing squad of rehabilitated drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran on April 28.

Mr Grigson has since returned to his post.

While the Australian government was deeply disappointed its repeated pleas for clemency were rebuffed, Indonesia expressed outrage in the lead-up to the executions when Prime Minister Tony Abbott linked Australia’s $1 billion in tsunami aid to the bid for mercy.

Since then, there have been ongoing tensions over boat turn-backs, including allegations people smugglers were paid by Australian spies to return a vessel laden with asylum seekers to Indonesia.

An 80 per cent cut in live cattle import permits by Indonesia also upset Australia.

Former Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa expressed concern last month that there was a “sense of disconnect” in the bilateral relationship and that communications between the two nations – both publicly and privately – were at a low.

He cited the boat turn-backs policy, since adopted by Labor as its policy, as “inherently incompatible” with good relations.

Ms Bishop retorted that the relationship was at an “all-time” high and she was in regular contact with Ms Marsudi.

Indonesian officials, however, have conceded that relations have been at a nadir but say they are anxious for the squabbling to end.

“Australia is an important regional partner for us,” said one official.

Ms Bishop was unable to comment as she was travelling back to Australia from New York. But it is understood she plans to be in Kuala Lumpur next week.

Minister for Justice Michael Keenan is expected to visit Jakarta in about three weeks, the first by a minister this year.

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