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Indonesian president to visit Australia this weekend

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo will head to Australia this weekend for his first visit as head of state to a key ally whose relationship with Jakarta has been repeatedly strained in recent years.

[JAKARTA] Indonesian President Joko Widodo will head to Australia this weekend for his first visit as head of state to a key ally whose relationship with Jakarta has been repeatedly strained in recent years.

Mr Widodo, accompanied by several cabinet ministers, will be in Sydney Saturday and Sunday for the state visit, during which he will hold talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the foreign ministry in Jakarta said.

It is his first official trip to Australia since being elected president in 2014.

Ahead of the visit, Mr Widodo reportedly said he would discuss joint patrols of Indonesian and Australian vessels in the hotly contested South China Sea with Mr Turnbull during the trip.

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He told the Australian newspaper that he saw joint patrols, potentially around Indonesia's Natuna Islands at the southern edge of the waters, as "very important" so long as they did not raise regional tensions.

Indonesian and Chinese vessels clashed repeatedly in waters around the Natunas last year. While Jakarta does not have any disputes with Beijing over territory in the sea, unlike other Asian nations, China's claims overlap Indonesian waters near the Natunas.

Ties between the neighbours have been rocky in recent years due to Jakarta's execution of Australian drug smugglers and Canberra's policy of turning migrant boats back to Indonesia, but improved after Mr Turnbull took office in 2015.

"This visit is very important for us because it shows how close we are as neighbours," foreign ministry spokesman Arrmanantha Nasir said Thursday.

In a statement, Mr Turnbull said that the "bilateral relationship with Indonesia is vitally important to both countries and has never been stronger".

Mr Widodo had originally been scheduled to visit in November but was forced to cancel the trip to deal with the aftermath of a violent mass demonstration against Jakarta's Christian governor.

Mr Turnbull will host a private dinner for Mr Widodo and Indonesian first lady Iriana Widodo, said Mr Nasir.

Other issues on the agenda include investment, terrorism and cyber-security, as well as Mr Widodo's wish to expand teaching of the Indonesian language in Australia, he said.

Mr Widodo will also meet with Australian businessmen and Indonesians living in Sydney.

The latest row between the neighbours erupted in January when Indonesia announced it was suspending some military cooperation after teaching materials deemed offensive to Jakarta were found at an Australian army base.

AFP

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