Indonesia, China agree on dialogue to resolve sea disputes

Defence chiefs also discuss defence industry cooperation, investments in food projects

Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe have agreed in a meeting to resolve any issues arising from South China Sea through dialogue, a senior Indonesian government official said yesterday.

The two ministers in their Jakarta meeting on Tuesday also discussed the possibility of holding joint military drills and personnel training, and investments in Indonesia's food estate projects, the official told The Straits Times on condition of anonymity.

Mr Prabowo and the visiting Chinese State Councillor and Defence Minister Wei discussed bilateral issues including the joint effort to fight the coronavirus, to cooperation in the defence industry, said a press statement issued by Mr Prabowo's office late on Tuesday. The statement did not elaborate.

Mr Wei visited Indonesia after landing in Kuala Lumpur on Monday where he held separate meetings with Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaacob.

The visits came as foreign ministers of the 10-member Asean bloc that includes Indonesia and Malaysia began their annual regional consultations yesterday, with US-China friction, including in the South China Sea, expected to be on the agenda.

The meeting is being held by video link with Vietnam as chair.

Meanwhile, China's senior diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said yesterday that the United States is directly intervening in territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea due to its own political needs, Reuters reported.

The US is becoming the biggest driver of militarisation in the region, Mr Wang said in a video conference with foreign ministers at the Asean summit.

"Peace and stability is China's greatest strategic interest in the South China Sea. It is also the common strategic aspiration of China and Asean countries," Mr Wang said in a statement posted on the foreign ministry's website, as quoted by Reuters.

On Indonesia-China ties, Jakarta officials say that bilateral relations have been marked by mutually beneficial projects, such as the joint-venture nickel industrial project in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province. But there have also been several tense maritime border incidents between the two countries, which Jakarta and Beijing have managed.

Indonesia has repeatedly emphasised its sovereignty over an area north of the Natuna Islands, where it says it has seen encroachments by Chinese and Vietnamese vessels over the years.

Three years ago, a senior Indonesian government official unveiled a map which identified the section of the South China Sea north of the Natuna Islands as the North Natuna Sea.

Although the area lies in Indonesia's exclusive economic zone, it was previously left unnamed and was taken to be part of the South China Sea.

Mr Wei in his meeting with Mr Prabowo said China is willing to strengthen dialogue and consultation with Indonesia to jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea, Xinhua news agency reported.

China claims most of the South China Sea as sovereign territory, but Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the area through which about US$3 trillion (S$4.1 trillion) of trade passes each year.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2020, with the headline Indonesia, China agree on dialogue to resolve sea disputes. Subscribe