JAKARTA • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday that his country aimed to work more closely with Indonesia over maritime security, but there was no plan for the neighbours to hold joint patrols in the South China Sea.
In an interview with the Australian newspaper last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he would like to see joint patrols and intended to raise the idea with Mr Turnbull, but only if it did not further inflame tensions with China.
"We are not going to undertake any actions which would increase tensions in the South China Sea," said Mr Turnbull, when asked whether Indonesia had raised the prospect of conducting joint patrols.
"Our commitment is to increase our cooperation with each other in terms of maritime security. So we talk about more collaboration, more coordination, but it has not been taken any further than that," added Mr Turnbull, who is in Jakarta to attend a summit meeting of the 21-member Indian Ocean Rim Association (Iora).
Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan also said after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday that he did not envisage joint patrols.
"I don't know whether it is necessary for us to do joint patrols over there, but for sure, for economic activity, we can do," Mr Luhut said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7 trillion) worth of trade passes each year.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.
Indonesia has traditionally taken a neutral position on the South China Sea issue, acting as a buffer between China and fellow Asean members the Philippines and Vietnam.
But Jakarta was angered after China said the two countries had "overlapping claims" to waters close to Indonesia's Natuna Islands and staged a large-scale exercise on the edge of the South China Sea in October.
Australia - which says it takes no sides on South China Sea disputes but has supported US-led freedom of navigation activities in the region - has been rebuilding ties with Indonesia after a recent spat over the military.