Indonesia and US to enhance defence, security links

Indonesia's Defence Ministry is trying to modernise its weapon systems, and has shown interest in some US-made ones. PHOTO: AFP

Indonesia and the United States have agreed to boost defence and security cooperation, after a meeting between Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and US Defence Secretary Mark Esper in Washington.

The top defence officials discussed "regional security, bilateral defence priorities and defence acquisitions" in their meeting last Friday, according to a joint statement by Indonesia's Defence Ministry and the US Department of Defence on the same day.

They expressed their common intention "to enhance bilateral military-to-military activities and work together on maritime security".

"Secretary Esper communicated the importance of upholding human rights, the rule of law and professionalisation as the two countries expand their engagement. Minister Subianto expressed the importance of military engagement at all levels and communicated his appreciation for the United States' support for Indonesia's defence modernisation," the statement said.

But it did not elaborate on what kind of support Mr Prabowo had referred to. There has been no official announcement about any deal sealed during his five-day visit which ended yesterday.

Indonesia's Defence Ministry is trying to modernise its weapon systems, and has shown interest in some US-made ones. Mr Prabowo had earlier met his counterparts from China, Russia and other key arms suppliers - all US adversaries - and discussed Indonesia's current needs in defence, while also touching on some regional affairs.

The US was expected to renew warnings to Jakarta against major arms purchases from Moscow, and experts warned that purchasing Russian fighter jets could lead to US sanctions under the US Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, Reuters reported.

Mr Prabowo's visit also came at a time when Washington is setting its sights on South-east Asian partners to contain the greater influence of China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Among the future cooperation between the US and Indonesia is the restarting of work to recover the remains of US personnel lost in Indonesia during World War II, under a memorandum of intent signed by Mr Prabowo and Dr Esper, the statement said.

"Both leaders expressed sympathies to those affected by Covid-19 in the United States and Indonesia," it added.

The US has handed over ventilators and US$12.3 million (S$16.7 million) in Covid-19 relief funding to Indonesia, the world's fourth-most populous nation with nearly 270 million people, where 365,240 have been infected and 12,617 killed by the coronavirus.

Mr Prabowo, a former special forces commander, was previously banned from entering the US for two decades due to his alleged role in past human rights violations, including the 1998 riots after the fall of Indonesian president Suharto. Concerns over human rights abuses had also ended the cooperation between the Indonesian and US militaries.

Human rights advocates had protested against the US' move to grant Mr Prabowo a visa. In a joint letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dated Oct 13, Amnesty International and other groups had said the decision to lift the travel ban is an "abrupt, complete reversal of longstanding US foreign policy which has been in place for 20 years".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2020, with the headline Indonesia and US to enhance defence, security links. Subscribe