US seeks 'win-win' trade, security ties with Indonesia: Pence

US Vice-president Mike Pence talks trade, security and the South China Sea in his meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta.
Mr Mike Pence and Mr Joko Widodo at the Merdeka Palace yesterday. Mr Pence also visited a mosque in Jakarta.
Mr Mike Pence and Mr Joko Widodo at the Merdeka Palace yesterday. Mr Pence also visited a mosque in Jakarta.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

JAKARTA • US Vice-President Mike Pence yesterday reaffirmed the Trump administration's commitment to a "win-win" relationship in trade and security with Indonesia.

He also said the United States will continue to work with Indonesia to defend the "rules-based system that is the foundation for South-east Asia's peace and prosperity" and uphold the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and the Asia-Pacific region.

In a joint press conference with President Joko Widodo after a bilateral meeting yesterday, Mr Pence said the US wants to expand its trade ties in a "win-win relationship" with South-east Asia's largest economy, echoing the words used by his host.

"We believe we must level the playing field, break down barriers to ensure American exporters can fully participate in the Indonesian market, with the same freedom that Indonesian exporters have had in many sectors in the United States for many years," he added.

His comments come not long after Washington had identified Indonesia as one of 16 nations whose trade ties are being reviewed due to its trade surplus with the US.

Mr Joko, who spoke briefly before Mr Pence, said their two countries are committed to increasing their strategic partnership which will focus on investments.

Mr Pence arrived in Jakarta from Tokyo on Wednesday night, just hours after a watershed election in Jakarta, where incumbent Chinese- Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was ousted by conservative Muslim rival Anies Baswedan.

After his meetings at the presidential palace, Mr Pence visited Masjid Istiqlal, the largest mosque in South-east Asia. He did not make any public statements there but had earlier praised his hosts, saying that as the world's largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia's tradition of moderate Islam is "an inspiration to the world".

His mosque visit was welcomed by local Islamic leaders.

Indonesian Ulema Council chief Maruf Amin told Agence France- Presse: "The US is a big country, with major influence, so it should present itself as a country which is friendly to everyone."

He added: "Hopefully Pence's visit indicates a change in attitude, at least that they are moving away from the stance that they don't like Islam much."

When reaffirming security and defence relations with Indonesia, Mr Pence also said Washington will stand with Jakarta against the rise and spread of terrorism.

There was a feel-good factor to the short visit but it was one that failed to address a handful of issues, including the recent dispute between the Indonesian government and American mining giant Freeport McMoRan, as well as a move to claw back taxes from Internet giant Google.

The US Vice-President will speak with businessmen in a closed-door meeting in Jakarta, before leaving for Sydney later today.

Mr Pence also said President Donald Trump will attend the US-Asean and East Asia meetings in the Philippines, as well as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group meeting in Vietnam.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2017, with the headline 'US seeks 'win-win' trade, security ties with Indonesia: Pence'. Print Edition | Subscribe