JAKARTA: Indonesia and the US on Tuesday signed an extension to a bilateral maritime cooperation deal covering security and navigation issues.
The inking of the agreement came as part of American attempts to strengthen ties with southeast Asian countries for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region in the wake of increasingly assertive Chinese claims on the South China Sea.
Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken penned an extension to the accord until 2026, during the second day of the American diplomat’s visit to Jakarta. Blinken’s tour of Southeast Asia was also expected to take in Malaysia and Thailand.
Marsudi said the memorandum of understanding covered maritime security cooperation, marine resources, conservation, and fisheries management, as well as maritime safety and navigation.
“In order to strengthen our security cooperation, we agreed to establish a two-plus-two dialogue mechanism between senior officials from the ministries of foreign affairs, and defense,” she added.
Blinken said cooperation on maritime issues was particularly vital “in this region where so much happens by sea, particularly so much commerce happens by sea, and at a critical moment when the climate crisis threatens our oceans, our waterways, our coasts, and marine life.”
The two senior government officials also discussed the situation in Afghanistan. Marsudi said she had highlighted to Blinken Indonesian proposals to increase humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, her country’s active role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and its involvement in initiating an OIC ministerial meeting to be held in Islamabad to discuss humanitarian aid.
“Indonesia conveyed that women empowerment would continue to be one of our priority cooperations with Afghanistan,” she added.
Earlier in the day, Blinken delivered a speech at the University of Indonesia in which he reaffirmed US President Joe Biden’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region after it was questioned during former American President Donald Trump’s administration. The secretary of state listed a number of high-ranking US officials that had visited the region since Biden took office, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and other Cabinet members and senior State Department officials.
The focus of the Biden administration, Blinken said, would be to “advance a free and open Indo-Pacific” and work with its allies and partners to defend the rules-based order built together over decades to ensure the region remained open and accessible.
But he noted that defending the rules-based order was not aimed at taking a swipe at a certain country but to protect the right of all nations to be free from coercion and intimidation. “It is not about a contest between a US-centric region or a China-centric region. The Indo-Pacific is its own region,” Blinken said.
He added that there had been heightened concerns about “Beijing’s aggressive actions,” which he said included claiming open seas as its own, denying the exports or revoking deals for countries whose policies it did not agree with, and engaging in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities.
“Countries across the region want this behavior to change. We do, too, and that’s why we’re determined to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s aggressive actions there threaten the movement of more than $3 trillion worth of commerce every year,” he added.
Blinken arrived in Jakarta on Monday at the same time as the Russian Secretary of the Security Council Nikolay Patrushev, who was also on an official visit to the Indonesian capital. Patrushev’s trip came two weeks after Russia and member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (of which Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand were founding members) held their first ever joint naval drill in Indonesian waters.
Patrushev and Blinken met with Indonesian President Joko Widodo separately on Monday, and Marsudi said Russia and the US were important partners with which Indonesia maintained strategic trust for cooperation.