Cameron on trade mission to 'responsible' Indonesia

The Prime Minister visits Jakarta today to fly the flag for British goods. His entourage includes 30 business executives from the worlds of energy, construction, pharmaceuticals and - controversially - defence.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
Cameron’s whistle-stop tour of likely looking export nations continues with Indonesia. And he’s taken his friends with him. Among them, defence giant BAE Systems. Britain was once Indonesia’s biggest military supplier and, with the country fast rising through the economic ranks, the PM is keen to make hay while the sun shines. ‘It’s one of the most populous countries in the world and will be a top ten economy… We need to rebuild those relationships,’ he said.

But it’s not going to be quite as simple as popping over for a cup of kopi. It’s been 13 years since Britain stopped selling fighter jets and weapons to Indonesia after the country was accused of bombing its own citizens using British-made planes, both in East Timor in 1999, and again in Aceh in 2003.  But we’ve come a long way since, then, reckons Cameron.

‘We have to be honest and straightforward about the problems in the past,’ he said, ‘But at the same time we believe that democratic and responsible countries like Indonesia have a right to defend themselves, and to buy the equipment needed to do so.’

The ‘democratic’ and ‘responsible’ tags are important; Indonesia is no longer under military control. Between its revamped political status and Britain’s arms licensing laws, Cameron says there is no way that British weapons could ‘fall into the hands of those who might misuse them’ ever again. A bold claim, given that historical precedents on this topic are far from conclusive.

There is a lot riding on the success of this trip. Bad publicity cannot be allowed to stymie any deals. Especially when relations have been warming up so nicely in recent years. According to the Indonesian Trade Ministry, bilateral trade between Indonesia and the UK has risen by around 10% a year, topping £1.81bn in 2011, up from £1.65bn in 2010. Indonesia also maintained a trade surplus of £342m with the UK last year.

But it seems, luckily for Cameron, that this goodwill tour is already bearing fruit. This morning, Dave announced a £336m deal between Airbus and the Garuda Indonesia airline. As a result of the deal, 11 A330 aircraft will be built in Bristol and Broughton, protecting jobs and bolstering the UK aerospace industry.

So, the trade mission's going great guns, if you'll pardon the pun. But any potential arms deals in the offing are likely to wait until after Dave & Co. have left, taking the media spotlight with them. Providing the tsunami warning doesn’t spoil their plans…

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