Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the United States would find new ways to cooperate with Indonesia in the South China Sea and respected Jakarta’s efforts to safeguard its own waters while rejecting China’s “unlawful” claims in the area.
Pompeo’s visit to Indonesia comes amid a five-nation tour through Asia where he has sought to strengthen strategic and economic ties amid rising tensions between the US and China.
In a joint news conference with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi, Pompeo hailed Jakarta’s “decisive action” to protect its sovereignty in the waters near the Natuna Islands, which China claims as its territory.
He said China’s claim was “unlawful”.
China makes its South China Sea claims under the so-called nine-dash line, a vague delineation from maps dating back to the 1940s, which was declared illegal in a 2016 ruling at The Hague.
“I am looking forward to co-operating together in the new ways to ensure maritime security protects some of the world’s busiest trade routes,” Pompeo said in a streamed news conference after his meeting Indonesia’s foreign minister.
Retno said she wanted a “stable and peaceful” South China Sea where international law was respected.
“Indonesia-US are strategic partners,” she wrote on Twitter, noting it was Pompeo’s second visit. “We share many values, including democracy, human rights, promoting tolerance and diversity and respect for the rule of law. A partnership between equals based on mutual respect and mutual benefits.”
Indonesia has repeatedly turned away Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels that have entered the North Natuna Sea.
Retno said Indonesia and the United States would enhance defence cooperation by boosting military procurement, training and exercises, intelligence sharing, and maritime security cooperation in the region.China claims almost the entire South China Sea and over the past 10 years has built up military installations on several disputed reefs and outcrops to assert its claim. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Taiwan also claim parts of the sea.
Retno said on Thursday she reminded Pompeo of the “free and independent” foreign policy of Southeast Asia’s largest country and called for greater economic co-operation.
Indonesia’s economic ties with China have increased at the same time as Washington has considered downgrading Indonesia’s preferential trade treatment under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP).
That review is ongoing and Retno told Pompeo that the GSP facility was important to both nations.
Pompeo also met Indonesian President Joko Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, on Thursday, and is scheduled to make an address to make an address to the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim group.