Asia Indonesia seeks closer defense ties with Japan

Indonesia seeks closer defense ties with Japan

 

 Indonesian President Joko Widodo (rear left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe look on as Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Raced and his Japanese counterpart Gen Nakatani sign a defence agreement on Monday
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (rear left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe look on as Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Raced and his Japanese counterpart Gen Nakatani sign a defence agreement on Monday

(AA) – Defense ministers from Japan and Indonesia signed an agreement during a state visit by Indonesian President Joko Widodo to Japan earlier this week that significantly widens the defense ties of the two countries.

Only few years ago a meeting of this type between the two countries would have been limited to investment opportunities and trades. Those elements were of course present this time, but overshadowed by a mutual strengthening of defense ties.

Japan is rapidly changing its defense posture that was once limited strictly to the waters around the home islands. At the same time, it is signing defense agreements with several countries in Southeast Asia that are increasingly concerned about China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Indonesia too is re-arranging its defense priorities. Once aimed mainly at suppressing separatist movements, such as the once bloody insurgency in Aceh, it now focuses on border security and the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Jakarta’s main beef with Beijing concerns the “nine-dash line,” a feature on official Chinese maps that seems to imply that China claims as territorial waters about 90 percent of the South China Sea.

The most vulnerable piece of Indonesian real estate involves the Natuna Islands. While they sit just outside the Chinese purported boundary line, Indonesia’s maritime 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone does encroach into the disputed area.

Jakarta has long maintained that the nine-dash line has no basis in international law, repeatedly asking that Beijing clarify and formally recognize the validity of its economic zone.

The seabed around the Natuna islands is said to be rich in natural gas.

A statement from Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “It’s significant that Japan is the first [bilateral] foreign travel destination outside of ASEAN since he [Widodo] became president last October.”

Widodo did visit China in November for the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

During the recent visit, the two countries signed a formal defense cooperation agreement that involves Japanese assistance to Indonesian forces as well as bilateral cooperation in peacekeeping and anti-terrorism abroad.

Japan’s defense minister Gen Nakatani was quoted by the Kyodo news service as saying, “it will boost exchanges in the defense field between the two countries.”

Such an agreement is a necessary prelude to any arms acquisition. The agreement now holds out the promise of Indonesia acquiring weapons from Japan, which up to now has relied mainly on China for arms purchases.

Among the topics of discussion were ways in which Japan could help improve the Indonesian Coast Guard. Japan has already agreed to supply coast guard vessels to Vietnam and the Philippines, two countries on the frontline of territorial disputes with China.

“We need peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region,” Widodo said in an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun prior to leaving for Japan. “It is important to have political and security stability to build up our economic growth.”

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