Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono share a good relationship, which has helped overcome various roadblocks.
DATUK Seri Najib Tun Razak’s trip to Jakarta today is the latest in a string of visits that have marked his warm ties with Indonesia, whether at the official or private level.
This will be the Prime Minister’s fifth trip to Indonesia this year.
He was in Bali for the Apec summit in October and in August, he attended the wedding reception of former vice-president Jusuf Kalla’s daughter.
After the general election, Najib made a private visit to Jakarta in June to meet several local politicians. He also took time off to meet Malaysian students.
In November, he was in Jakarta again to attend the wedding of the daughter of a local businessman, his friend whom he has known for more than 20 years.
This time around, Najib is meeting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono tomorrow for their annual leaders consultation.
They enjoy excellent ties and somehow this has been translated into fewer hiccups in bilateral relations over the last four years.
Just like previous consultations, which each country hosts alternately, the supply of maids issue is still on the table.
Various announcements had been made which were supposed to signal the opening of the floodgates for Indonesian maids but it was not meant to be.
There has been much confusion over how much Malaysians should pay for maids from Indonesia.
A moratorium imposed by Indonesia in 2009 caused much distress to employers as maids were not allowed to be sent to work in Malaysia after several high profile abuse cases.
It was only after the intervention of the leaders that the moratorium was lifted on Dec 1, 2011, and an announcement was made when Najib and Susilo met in Lombok that year. However, the number of maids only trickled in.
A year later, after another consultation in Putrajaya, both leaders admitted that there were complications, with the agency fee set at RM4,511. The problem still persists for many Malaysian households who are at the mercy of maid agents.
Officials agree that agents in both countries are making it difficult for maids to come to Malaysia because they want to profit big from the business.
Another matter in the agenda is resolving land and maritime boundary issues.
Each time Najib and Susilo meet, they would direct their officials to continue the “constructive momentum in negotiations” on the Malaysia-Indonesia land demarcation in Kalimantan, and the Malaysia-Indonesia maritime boundaries delineation in the Sulawesi Sea.
During the Dec 2 meeting of the Malaysia-Indonesia joint commission for bilateral cooperation, both sides again agreed to speed up consultations on the boundaries issue.
Just what is the progress of these negotiations, how many rounds of meetings must be held and why can’t the two governments have a deal already?
For the first time too, the haze might be raised as fingers are often pointed to Malaysian plantation companies operating in Indonesia as the culprit.
“Whenever there are cases of slash and burn, the Indonesian media will put the blame on Malaysian companies and if any of our companies are involved, it is indeed difficult to defend them,” said an official.
Asean leaders, during their summit in Brunei recently, agreed to adopt a recommendation by Asean environment ministers for a transboundary haze monitoring system to make plantation companies accountable for causing the problem in the region.
In spite of these issues, Malaysia and Indonesia enjoy robust trade growth.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed had said efforts would be made to promote and encourage private sector investments in both countries.
In 2012, total two-way trade between Malaysia and Indonesia stood at US$20bil (RM64.8bil) and it was expected to grow to US$21bil (RM68bil) this year. Both countries plan to increase two-way trade to an estimated US$30bil (RM97bil) by 2015.
The way forward now is to move the relations to a deeper level especially in trade and investment.
Susilo is finishing his second five-year term as Indonesian president next October and the consultation this time may well be the last annual one between Najib and Susilo.
It is under Susilo that bilateral ties, often fraught with emotional issues, are managed well together.
An official noted that protests in front of the Malaysian embassy in Jakarta, especially after alleged reports of mistreatment of Indonesians, are almost a thing in the past.
“For example, take the case of the maid who was accused of murdering her employer in Kelantan or Indonesian citizens shot to death for attempted robbery.
“Instead of playing the blame game, the Indonesian government will seek information from us first and disseminate the correct information to the local media,” the official added.
Susilo and members of his Cabinet understand the importance of good relations and for that, Kuala Lumpur can only feel grateful for a level-headed Indonesian leader who has helped manage ties well with Malaysia.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.