JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – United State’s Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis met Indonesian President Joko Widodo to explore deepening defense relationship with the archipelago nation.
The US is seeking to strengthen influence in Southeast Asia to counter China’s expanding presence in the region. Indonesia and Vietnam high on the priority list, amid the rising security issue in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, his counterparts in the two countries also has mounting questions about the US President Donald Trump’s defense policy in Asia.
Mattis arrived in Jakarta on Monday as part of his week long trip to Southeast Asia. He kicked off his meeting with Indonesian officials with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi before meeting his counterpart Ryamizard Ryacudu on the same day.
“We probably engage with the Indonesian military more than any other nation anywhere in terms of mil-to-mil engagements,” Matis, the retired United States Marine Corps general, told reporters at the State Palace after meeting President Widodo.
“We talked about our partnership and which common ground in term of respect from one democracy to another and I am here to listen to your leaders and understand what we can do to assist you, one democracy to another, who are so important here in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said, adding he was deeply committed to the region.
Indo-Pacific region refers to a regional grouping of countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that invole Australia and India, two forces to counter China’s expanding influence in the region.
Mattis’ is visiting the archipelago nation as the country is stepping up its assertion over sovereignty in some parts of the contested South China Sea. Southeast Asia’s largest economy reportedly often has clashes with China over fishing rights, especially around the disputed Natuna Islands.
Some Chinese fishermen were reportedly detained and Indonesia is intensifying its patrol in the area in recent years. In July, the government of the world’s fourth most populous nation decided to rename the northern parts of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea into the North Natuna Sea. This move sparked speculation as a sign of resistance to China’s ambitions to rule the disputed territorial.
The following are some highlights from Mattis’ visit to Indonesia.
#1. Indonesia has high hopes that the US Defense Secretary to help ease the limitation of military relationship between the two countries, especially with the Indonesian special forces, or Kopassus, imposed since a few decades over human rights abuses in the 1990s. The US in 2010 has lifted its outright ban on its military contacts with Kopassus, which is believed to be involved of rights abuses in East Timor before it declared independence.
Indonesian Defense Minister Ryacudu said on Tuesday he expects Mattis can help lobby the US government to ease the limitation.
#2. Mattis said the US supports Indonesia’s government concept of pursuing “maritime fulcrum” of the Indo-Pacific area:
“We’re going to continue our efforts to maritime — maritime cooperation, but also support Indonesia as a sort of fulcrum between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. So international trade flows through there and a democracy like this, we have a lot, obviously, to start with that we can — that — that gives us a basis for getting along with each other and working together.”
#3. The US currently sit at the top list of Indonesia’s arms suppliers, despite the country also buys arms from U.S. rivals, including Russia.
The US recently delivered Boeing’s Apache helicopters, 24 of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 fighter jets. Some Indonesian officials have sought for an additional 48 F-16 aircraft, a deal which if it goes smoothly could be worth $4.5 billion.
*) Indonesia and the US has sealed a cooperation deal through the “Join Statement in Comprehensive Defence Corporation”, which was signed when President Widodo visited Washington in October 2015.
*) In the G-20 leaders’ meeting last year, Widodo and US President Donald Trump has agreed to improve defense cooperation between the two.
*) Indonesia’s defense ministry registered there are 6,159 military personnel and civil servants who have had education in the US. There are 61 US military officers, who have undertaken military’s Staff and Command School in Indonesia.