Indonesia, China leaders agree to resolve South China Sea issues through dialogue

Mr Prabowo Subianto (left) and Mr Wei Fenghe also discussed the possibility of holding joint military drills and personnel training, and investments in Indonesia's food estate projects.
Mr Prabowo Subianto (left) and Mr Wei Fenghe also discussed the possibility of holding joint military drills and personnel training, and investments in Indonesia's food estate projects.PHOTOS: PRABOWO SUBIANTO/FACEBOOK, REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto and his Chinese counterpart, Mr Wei Fenghe, have agreed in a meeting to resolve any issues arising from South China Sea through dialogue, a senior Indonesian government official said on Wednesday (Sept 9).

The two ministers in their Jakarta meeting on Tuesday (Sept 8) 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, and cooperation on defence industry, said a press statement issued by Mr Prabowo's office late on Tuesday. The statement did not elaborate.

Mr Wei in the meeting 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.

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 on Wednesday, with US-China friction, including in the South China Sea, is expected to be on the agenda.

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

Meanwhile, China's senior diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said on Wednesday 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 stressed 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.

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.

Indonesia has maintained that it is not a party to the South China Sea dispute, and does not want to be entangled in the US-China rivalry for regional influence.

"Asean, Indonesia, wants to show to all that we are ready to be a partner," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said told Reuters on Tuesday. "We don't want to get trapped by this rivalry."

Indonesia has seen a raft of Chinese investments and business cooperation in the country in recent years, including state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma working with Chinese firm Sinovac on a Covid-19 vaccine since April.

South-east Asia's biggest economy is currently seeking investors as it pushes ahead in developing two national food estates in Central Kalimantan and North Sumatra as part of an effort to preempt any adverse effects from a global food crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.