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Presenting a "world view" to about 280 delegates at the conference, Mr Howard said in his wide-ranging speech - which covered everything from leadership qualities to the state of the euro - Indonesia was a country New Zealand needed to watch.
It had gone from a "military dictatorship" to the third-largest democracy in the world, with a population of about 230 million, of which 85% followed Islam, in just 15 years.
"It is significant.
"I keep reading stories about how it's only a matter of time before China overtakes the US as the most powerful country in the world. I wouldn't bet your bank balance on that.
"I think the idea ... that we have to choose somehow between America and China is nonsense - it is possible to have a good relationship with both."
Mr Howard said Australia and New Zealand were "closer than any other [countries] in the world", based on their common philosophies and ideals "and long may that continue".
On natural resources, Mr Howard said he had a "fairly simple view".
"If you were blessed ... with large resources, you shouldn't be shy about exporting them and you shouldn't be shy about finding customers."