Jakarta, Nov. 21 (AP) U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin met with his Indonesian counterpart Monday to push for stronger defense ties amid growing Chinese naval activity in the region Indo-Pacific.
Austin, at a joint news conference after meeting with Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, said they discussed ways to deepen the two countries’ partnership, including expanding interoperability and ‘increased investments in defense education.
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“The United States is proud to partner with you as we work together to advance our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Austin said.
But Subianto stressed Indonesia’s neutral stance.
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“I would like to emphasize that Indonesia always takes the position of trying to maintain the best relations with all nations, especially with all major powers,” Subianto said.
Austin arrived in Jakarta on Sunday afternoon after a visit to the Canadian city of Halifax where he spoke about US efforts to build a more resilient security architecture with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and Europe at the Halifax International Security Forum.
His visit to Indonesia comes less than a week after Group of 20 leaders met on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. In a statement, he strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and warned that the conflict is worsening an already fragile world economy.
“We are coming together as the world is fighting back against attacks on the rules-based international order, particularly Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Austin said, “And it is especially vital now that more like-minded countries come together to uphold our shared principles. including the rule of law.”
He applauded Indonesia for its vote in the UN General Assembly earlier this year to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
While Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive ties, Jakarta has expressed concern over Chinese encroachment into its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety.
Subianto said that Indonesia views China as a friendly nation and that the two countries have ways of handling possible misunderstandings and differences of opinion in disputes over territorial waters.
“We believe that we will be able to resolve them through dialogue,” Subianto said, “However, we insist that Indonesia will defend its sovereignty and we will defend our independence.”
China and four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have overlapping claims over the South China Sea, home to vital shipping lanes, abundant fish stocks and underwater mineral resources. China and ASEAN have made little progress in finalizing a code of conduct to avoid conflict in the area.
Austin and Subianto are attending an expanded meeting of ASEAN security ministers starting Tuesday in Cambodia.
Chinese Defense Minister General Wei Fenghe will also attend, opening the possibility that he and Austin will hold face-to-face talks.
Defense ministers from ASEAN and eight partner countries, including the US, Japan and China, are expected to join the two-day meeting.
Although China’s influence and military strength in the region is growing rapidly, the US remains its dominant military power. Washington also has a security alliance with the Philippines and strong relations with other ASEAN members.
US Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to seek an expansion of the US military presence in the Philippines at a meeting on Monday with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (AP)
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