JAKARTA — Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s two-day state visit to Manila, on May 22-23, 2014, his first since holding office in 2004, coincided with the 65th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Indonesia and the Philippines.
During the bilateral meeting held in Malacanang Palace, on May 23, Yudhoyono and his host, President Benigno Aquino III agreed to further strengthen and foster relations between both countries not only in the field of political and economic cooperation but also agreed to boost people-to-people contact between the two countries.
“The Philippines welcomes President Yudhoyono and his delegation on his first state visit to our country. With our shared history, heritage, and aspirations, Indonesia is an invaluable friend and a reliable partner of the Filipino people. As staunch advocates of the ASEAN Community, our two nations share a partnership that grows from strength to strength,” President Aquino emphasized in a speech.
The two leaders witnessed the signing of three agreements, including a historic agreement concerning the delimitation of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) boundary. It took 20 years of negotiations to set this boundary between overlapping territories in the Mindanao, Sulawesi, and the Philippine seas.
“This is a milestone agreement that is founded on the principles of international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. It serves as a solid proof to our steadfast commitment to uphold the rule of law and pursue the peaceful and equitable settlement of maritime concerns,” President Aquino stressed.
President Yudhoyono noted that the boundary agreement proves that maritime border tensions can be resolved peacefully. “This (EEZ Boundary Delimitation Agreement) is also a good model and example that boundary disputes, including maritime boundary, can be resolved through peaceful means without the use of military means that may disrupt peace and stability in our region or elsewhere in the world,” Yudhoyono remarked.
The successful completion of the discussions on border matters is expected to open further opportunities for economic cooperation in the border areas and strengthen both nations security.
“This will benefit both Indonesian and Filipino people,” he added.
The two other agreements signed by Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa were a Memorandum of Understanding on Higher Education Cooperation and a Memorandum of Understanding on Combating International Terrorism.
“This shows both countries commitment to further increase people-to-people contact and cooperate in creating regional security,” Yudhoyono stated.
Yudhoyono and Aquino also discussed increased cooperation in the area of disaster response and management and agreed to enhance trade relations, particularly to double bilateral trade by 2016.
“We took note of Indonesia being the Philippines 11th largest trading partner in 2013, with total trade between us amounting to US$ 3.51 billion,” President Aquino pointed out.
Both countries also agreed to accelerate cooperation in trade, investment, and other areas of economic cooperation. Last year, the trade volume between the two countries reached US$ 4.59 billion with an average growth of 10.9 percent in the last five years.
In particular, Indonesia and the Philippines asserted their commitment to continue offering regional cooperation in the framework of the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-the Philippines East ASEAN Growth Agreement (BIMP-EAGA).
Both Indonesia and the Philippines are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that also includes Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, and Laos.
President Yudhoyono invited Filipino investors to invest in various projects of the Master Plan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesian Economic Development (MP3EI) 2011-2025. The government has disbursed over US$ 73 billion since 2011 for the MP3EI projects. Between 2015 and 2017, 25 strategic projects worth US$ 26 billion will be launched in areas, such as railroads, electricity, ports, telecommunications, and highways.
During his state visit to the Philippines, President Yudhoyono received two awards. The Philippine Government conferred the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Raja (Grand Collar) to Yudhoyono. This is believed to be the highest award given to a foreign national.
This award was bestowed on Yudhoyono not only for his outstanding efforts in enhancing bilateral relations between Indonesia and the Philippines but also for his active contribution in ASEAN; promotion of inter-faith dialogue as well as the promotion of peace, stability, and human rights in the Asia Pacific region.
Yudhoyono also received the Global Statesmanship Award presented by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as recognition for his efforts and contributions towards economic development in Indonesia.
President Yudhoyono is the first Asian leader to receive this award. Previously, similar awards were conferred to former Brazilian president Lula da Silva in 2010 and former Mexican president Felipe Calderon in 2012.