Indonesia, Japan step up maritime and defence ties amid feud with China

Abe says the two island nations gave maritime cooperation the "highest priority".

Indonesia and Japan agree to step up maritime security
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) shakes hands with Indonesian President Joko Widodo during a joint press conference at the Bogor Palace, West Java, Indonesia January 15, 2017. Reuters

Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to cooperate on maritime security and deepen defence ties on Sunday, even as both countries continue to have tense relations with China over the South and East China sea territory dispute. Widodo and Abe also discussed the opportunities for large infrastructure projects including a medium-speed rail line and a key port.

Abe said the two island nations gave maritime cooperation the "highest priority". The Japanese prime minister was visiting Indonesia on a regional tour that has taken him to Australia and the Philippines. He is travelling to Vietnam next.

"Japan will actively encourage cooperation on maritime security and encourage the development of the remote islands of Indonesia," Abe told AFP.

Last month, both Tokyo and Jakarta unveiled an agreement to strengthen Indonesia's ability to defend its marine borders. Although Indonesia has no argument with China over the ownership of islets in the contested waters of the South China Sea, Beijing claims to have rights on Indonesia's exclusive economic zone around the Natuna islands.

In such a scenario, Indonesia has vowed to protect its sovereignty from foreign intrusions that includes China as well. On the other hand, Japan has a territorial row with China over disputed islands in the East China Sea and has worked to strengthen ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations such as Indonesia. It has always stressed on addressing maritime disputes according to law.

Abe said the defence and foreign ministers of both Japan and Indonesia will meet this year to deepen "cooperation in the fields of defence and security".

According to Widodo, Japanese investment in Indonesia had nearly doubled from 2015 to almost US$5 billion last year. The Indonesian President is willing to stimulate growth by increasing infrastructure spending, especially on the creaking roads, ports and railways of the Southeast Asia's largest economy.

Japan has got the contract to build the largest coal-fired power plant of Indonesia along with a mass rapid transit system for Jakarta.