Ministerial Text Exchange Unconfirmed; Indonesia-Australia Trade Pact Still on Track

OCTOBER 18, 2018

Jakarta. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday that it was unable to confirm a report of a WhatsApp exchange between the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Australia, but reaffirmed that a bilateral trade agreement between the two countries remained on track to be signed at the end of this year.

"I cannot verify the validity of those WhatsApp [messages], because communications between the two ministers are privy only to them," foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said.

The statement came after Australia's Seven News reported that Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had sent several messages to her Australian counterpart, Marise Payne, warning that the proposed relocation of Australia's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would be a "slap in Indonesia's face" and "affect bilateral relations."

Those messages were reportedly sent after Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced earlier this week that he was open to moving the country's embassy.

Morrison's announcement was quickly followed by strong condemnation by Indonesia, a staunch supporter of Palestine, which raised concern and questioned the "merit" of the announcement.

Arrmanatha noted that Retno has open and regular communication, including via WhatsApp, with many of her counterparts, including in Australia, especially when it comes to urgent matters requiring immediate attention.

Indonesia has continued to emphasize the importance of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, further reiterating that the issue of Jerusalem is a crucial part of the peace process, as the city's territorial status remains unresolved.

Arrmanatha said Southeast Asia most populous country considers both the Palestinian question and bilateral relations with its neighbors important matters.

Since negotiations on the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement have concluded and are in the last stages of finalization, he said trade relations should remain unaffected.

But Indonesia is open to adjusting its policies and actions, depending on the situation.

"If we can finish these final touches on time, we can sign the agreement by the end of the year. This is our target, and what we are aiming for," Arrmanatha said.