Indonesian representatives visit Tokyo . . .
After their first ‘2-plus-2’ talks between foreign and defence ministers since 2015, Japan signed a deal this week to export defence equipment to Indonesia. Both sides expressed shared concern over the continuation and escalation of China’s claims and activities in the South China Sea while also reaffirming their commitment to an international, rules-based maritime order under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both countries also agreed to jointly develop remote Indonesian islands in the South China Sea.
Philippines sounds alarm over China in the South China Sea . . .
The bilateral talks come as tensions in the South China Sea are rising, with more than 200 Chinese ships crossing into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on March 7. According to Philippine authorities, the 220 vessels moored at the Julian Felipe Reef, which lies within the country’s EEZ, did not appear to be fishing and were crewed by Chinese military forces. The Philippines has demanded the immediate withdrawal of the vessels. But this week, 44 ships remain at the reef. Chinese officials have said the ships were sheltering from rough seas, and there are no militias aboard. While Philippine authorities continue air and sea patrols of the area, countries like Canada, the U.S., and Japan have voiced concern over this latest incident and China’s intentions.
Japan and ASEAN collaboration . . .
China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and ship incursions will likely face stronger push back from Japan and Southeast Asian allies in the future. At the start of 2021, Japan joined multiple Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia included, in presenting a diplomatic note to the United Nations rejecting Beijing’s territorial claims and efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the disputed sea. For Southeast Asian partners like Indonesia, an agreement with Japan will contribute to the necessary upgrading of maritime defences after the pandemic battered military spending. Japan’s bilateral agreement with Indonesia also signals Tokyo’s refocus in the region, not just with individual partners, but also through ASEAN, which holds a congruent vision of a rules-based and interconnected Indo-Pacific.