Indonesia Wants U.S. Help With Sea Power Ambitions

Discussion in 'Indo Pacific & East Asia' started by Yusuf, Oct 24, 2015.

  1. Yusuf

    Yusuf GUARDIAN Administrator

    Mar 24, 2009
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    JAKARTA, Indonesia—Indonesia will seek U.S. help as it builds a new coast guard to patrol its strategic waters, and will play a more active role in resolving regional territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.

    President Joko Widodo meets with U.S. President Barack Obama on his first state visit to Washington, D.C., next week, and maritime security and other defense ties will be high on the agenda, Luhut Pandjaitan, coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs in the Southeast Asian nation, said in an interview.

    Mr. Pandjaitan, a former general who is one of the most influential members of Mr. Widodo’s government and an architect of the visit to the U.S., also said Indonesia will soon begin playing a more active role in resolving regional conflicts in the South China Sea, where Chinese claims are a point of contention for Indonesia’s neighbors such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

    One area of cooperation could include U.S. help in developing a coast guard in the sprawling archipelago nation of 18,000 islands. “Our expectation in the near future” is for a U.S. role in that effort, Mr. Pandjaitan said.

    Earlier this month, the U.S. said it would spend $100 million on maritime law enforcement in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. Mr. Pandjaitan said the details of that assistance aren’t yet clear.

    Indonesia, a nation of 250 million people and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, occupies a strategic position in global trade and transit waters, stretching nearly 3,000 kilometers from the Indian to Pacific oceans. Almost any passage between the two requires transiting through chokepoints in Indonesian waters.

    Indonesia lacks resources to consistently patrol all but the busiest trade waters in areas such as the Malacca Strait, and one of Mr. Widodo’s central goals is to change that, including by boosting training and military exercises with regional heavyweights Japan and China.

    Defense analysts say Indonesia has been less active in regional issues in the past year, and Mr. Pandjaitan said this would end as Indonesia puts its worst economic slide in six years behind it.

    “The first 7-8 months, we were focused on our economy,” he said. “If you cannot manage your own domestic issues, how can you manage international things?”

    Washington has said it would soon sail ships through waters around islets that China has built on reefs in the South China Sea, a move Mr. Pandjaitan said is within its rights.

    “We don’t want to be like [we] invite the U.S. to be there,” Mr. Pandjaitan said. “But this is the international sea, and everybody has the right to cross this area.‘’

    “We don’t recognize the 9-dash line,” he added, referring to a territorial line on some Chinese maps claiming the disputed waters. He called the line, which China says reflects historical claims, “imaginary.”

    China’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Pandjaitan’s remarks.

    Indonesia isn’t a claimant in the dispute, lying just south of the South China Sea, but President Widodo told the Journal this week that he wants stability in the region, and will continue to push for a code of conduct to govern relations in the region, a regional effort that has dragged on for years.

    Indonesia isn’t in a position of aligning with the U.S. over China, defense analysts and Indonesian officials say.

    “Indonesian strategic concerns about China are not that much greater than its concerns about the U.S.,” said Walter Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation. Indonesia has enormous interest in China’s Silk Road project and associated financing, he said.

    The U.S. placed some military sanctions on Indonesia in the 1990s and 2000s related to human rights abuses. Indonesian officials “learned that lesson well and so have a proven interest in maintaining diversity in choice of security partners,” Mr. Lohman said.

    U.S. Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. told reporters this week that the U.S. is willing to build military ties with Indonesia. He pointed to Maryland-based Lockheed Martin ’s cockpit demonstration of its latest model F16V to Indonesia earlier this month as sign of the U.S.’s willingness to work closely with Indonesia and the development of military-to-military relations between the two.

    The U.S. has more exercises with Indonesia than Indonesia has had with any other country, and has a significant military equipment supply effort under way, he said, adding that officials traveling with Mr. Widodo will also make a visit to the Pentagon to discuss advancing U.S.—Indonesia military relations.

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