New Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was in Japan this week for high level security meetings about maritime security in Asia. Top of the agenda: China’s territorial ambitions in the East and South China Seas.
That’s because, although Indonesia doesn’t technically have any territorial dispute with China, Jakarta still has good reasons to be worried about Beijing’s expansionism. As we wrote last August, Chinese vessels often push into Indonesia’s territory in Natuna, stoking fears that Beijing’s broad territorial ambitions secretly include the remote archipelago. So now, Jokowi is making clear that Indonesia is joining the group of countries which oppose Beijing’s Nine-Dash Line claims and aggressive maritime policies. The Diplomat has more:
On March 23, visiting Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe agreed to set up a new high-level bilateral maritime forum. The initiative is part of their ongoing efforts to strengthen their overall strategic partnership as well as to deepen the defense side of that relationship. […]
Speaking after the summit, Jokowi said that the forum would be geared towards enhancing Indonesia’s coast guard and infrastructure capabilities. […]
Aside from agreeing to set up the forum, the maritime cooperation portion of the joint statement noted that both sides would promote cooperation by strengthening capacity-building for maritime safety, promoting the fishing, shipbuilding and shipping industries, and enhancing measures for maritime traffic safety “through technical cooperation including the dispatch of experts, the provision of equipment and financial assistance.” Some of this cooperation will build off of previous efforts, including Tokyo’s maritime security assistance to Southeast Asian states and discussions about the provision of patrol boats.
This isn’t coming out of nowhere. Just before the conference, Jokowi was making noises about the illegitimacy of China’s legal basis for claiming ownership of the area within the line of official Chinese maps demarcating the territory Beijing says is rightfully its property, the “Nine-Dash Line,” a move which was sure to make for a warm reception in Tokyo. Looking further back, there was reason to expect Indonesia would align itself with Beijing’s opponents on this score.
Indonesia’s entry into this Japanese-organized forum is just one more demonstration of the barriers in the way of China’s achieving the regional hegemony it continues to pursue. None of China’s neighbors can stand up to their big regional bully individually, but as we’ve seen over the past several years, when Beijing pursues aggressive policies it quickly finds itself surrounded by a group of united opponents. Indonesia’s recent moves indicate that this dynamic is still very much with us.