Disaster warning interrupts Cameron's trade mission


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The Independent Online

David Cameron has praised Indonesia as an inspiring example of a moderate Islamic state that has overthrown repressive rule and replaced it with a prospering democracy.

On the second day of his tour of South-East Asia, he said the world's most populous Muslim nation could signpost the way to democracy for Middle Eastern and North African countries that had ousted dictators.

He repeated the message – which coincided with fresh evidence of brutal repression of Syrian protesters by the Assad regime – in a speech to university students early today.

However, his team's carefully prepared plans to bang the drum for British industry in the rapidly growing economy were disrupted when an earthquake struck off the Indonesian coast hours after his arrival.

As officials and journalists scrambled to assess its impact and the risk of a tsunami, he told Prime Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that Britain stood ready to offer any emergency help.

Mr Cameron, who is travelling with a large delegation of business leaders, set a target of doubling trade between the countries by 2015 and announced a £326m deal for the Indonesian airline Garuda to buy Airbus A330s, protecting thousands of jobs in Britain.

Standing alongside his host, the Prime Minister also drew a political message from the emergence of Indonesia from military rule.

He told Mr Yudhoyono: "Under your leadership, Indonesia has continued a remarkable transformation into one of the world's fastest growing economies and one of the world's most inspiring new democracies."

Mr Cameron said the two leaders had discussed the importance of dialogue between different faiths and the importance of promoting the strength of moderate Islamic countries. He said: "Where countries are freeing themselves from autocratic leaders and asking 'can we make the step towards democracy?', as countries that are predominantly Muslim, Indonesia provides the answer – yes you can. That is a very powerful message."

Despite the mutual praise between the leaders, Mr Cameron suffered an uncomfortable moment when his host contradicted the Coalition's recipe for rebuilding the economy. Mr Yudhoyono advocated investment to stimulate growth. "We should safeguard unemployment levels," he said.

"We know the community was impacted by this. We provided social assistance, we provided stimulus so [people] can buy purchases."

Mr Cameron played down the incident in a round of interviews last night.

"I think he was making a very sensible point which is that both of us have a challenge which is to generate the growth necessary to ensure that young people have a job and a future and that is critical in Indonesia just as it is critical in Britain," the Prime Minister said.

He argued that Britain could have been in the same position as other European countries such as Spain but for tough action to tackle the national deficit.

Mr Cameron also looked forward to his visit to Burma tomorrow, when he is due to meet Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi.