(Yomiuri: March 24, 2015 – p. 7)
Japan and Indonesia will work together to strengthen their maritime security alliance, the leaders of the two countries announced on March 23.
The partnership includes Japan’s provision of cutting-edge defense equipment to Indonesia, the leading power of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), through which Tokyo hopes to restrain China’s growing maritime might in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, Indonesia is making overtures to China on account of Beijing’s pledge to invest huge amounts of money in the Southeast Asian country. Tokyo and Jakarta are apparently not on the same wavelength as to what they expect of each other.
“As major maritime nations in Asia, we have affirmed the enhancement of our strategic partnership,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a joint press conference with visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
Abe hopes to work closely with Indonesia in a range of fields including maritime security. In the field of defense cooperation, Tokyo is planning to export the US-2, a Maritime Self-Defense Force flying boat that can be used not only in search and rescue operations but also in patrolling surrounding waters. Jakarta is showing a strong interest in this plan as it is stepping up its coastal security. The two countries are working to launch a “two-plus-two” meeting of their foreign and defense ministers as soon as possible for the early materialization of the plan.
Japan and Indonesia are both concerned about the presence of China, which is expanding its effective control in the South China Sea. China unilaterally claims territorial rights over most of the areas within the demarcations of a so-called “nine-dashed line” in the sea.
Indonesia acknowledges that the nine-dashed line is not backed by international law. But the reality is that ASEAN remains unable to contain China, which exhibits greater military capability than the 10-member regional bloc.
The memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation signed between Japan and Indonesia is aimed at helping ASEAN countries bolster their coastal security. Now Japan has concluded MOUs with five countries facing the South China Sea, including the Philippines and Vietnam, which are engaged in territorial disputes with China.
Although Indonesia is not directly involved a territorial dispute with China, a senior official of Japan’s Ministry of Defense said: “We believe it is of great significance to have Indonesia, which is home to more than 40% of the population of ASEAN, engage in the South China Sea issue.”
President Joko Widodo stressed during his talks with Prime Minister Abe: “Indonesia wants every party to exercise self-restraint and hopes to contribute to reconciliation.” Nevertheless, the country is deepening its economic ties with China.
In November, the Indonesian leader met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and told him that Indonesia will join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a China-led international financial institution. He reportedly sounded out Xi on the idea of setting up the bank’s headquarters in Jakarta.
Indonesia’s economic growth has been hampered by a chronic lack of infrastructure. It has been stressing the need for about 50 trillion yen over the next five years for port and airport construction. China has responded to this call and offered to invest 40 billion dollars in the nation.
The Indonesian president will visit China after Japan and is expected to call for more investment in Indonesia when he meets with Xi. By visiting Japan and China in succession, he may be trying to strike a balance between the two countries that are at odds over a territorial dispute in the East China Sea.