Indonesia - strengthening ties with Philippines and seeking to enhance military cooperation with China

Updated On: Jul 17, 2007

Indonesia has had a week of active diplomacy.

Within ASEAN, Indonesia had a good session with the Philippines in discussing initiatives for bilateral cooperation. "The two countries have high commitment to intensify their cooperation in the fields of security and defense and the coordination among the Police of the two countries, as well," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said. Both countries have similarities as archipelagoes with long marine borders and the common need to tackle terrorism on their own soil. "In fighting terrorism, Indonesia and the Philippines have had `ASEAN Agreement Information Cooperation' which covers many agreement in fighting terrorism in the region," he added.

In addition, both countries have disputes over their maritime boundaries. "As two biggest island nations in the world, Indonesia and the Philippines will also try hard to settle the sea boundaries of the two countries which may lie along more than 600 nautical miles," he said. "We expect it would be signed before end of 2007," FM Hassan added optimistically when announcing the schedule for settling sea boundaries between the two ASEAN member states.

Other than boundaries, both countries have also looked at other agreements. "The exchange of information, including the intelligent information, coordinated patrol of the navies of the two countries, the visit of the Philippine' s officers as well as the educational and training programs are among those having been implemented," he said. These new initiatives come against the backdrop of existing bilateral cooperation in the efforts of handling the disaster and joint training had been in place since 1997.

Other than military matters, both Indonesia and the Philippines also agreed to tackle the migrant workers’ issue. Indonesia and the Philippines agreed in a joint commission meeting to improve protection of their migrant workers through the formation of an ASEAN commission on migration and development. "As exporters of migrant workers Indonesia and the Philippines have taken the initiative to produce an 'ASEAN Declaration on Migrant Workers' which was signed in Cebu at an ASEAN Summit early this year," Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said.

He also said Indonesia and the Philippines had also agreed to sponsor an "ASEAN Agreement on Risk Protection of Migrant Workers." "The agreement was a follow-up to the two countries' resolve to issue clear regulations on migrant workers' protection in ASEAN member countries in particular," he said. "As we all know, there are around 7,100 Indonesians who have been living in South Philippines for two or three generations," he said. FM Hassan was grateful to the Philippine authorities for registering around 5,000 of these Indonesians so that they had a legal status to reside and work in that country. "Meanwhile, in a reciprocal gesture Indonesia would facilitate the registration of Philippine nationals living in the country's islands and give them a legal status to stay there," he said.

Similarly, Indonesia is also actively discussing with Singapore to resolve differences holding up the Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA). Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono revealed that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had been in direct contact with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to try to move negotiations forward. 'For almost the whole of May, there was a flurry of letters between PM and the President, me and Chee Hean, and the Panglima and the Chief of Defence Force,' Dr Juwono said. 'Both sides are waiting for an appropriate moment for a fresh round of diplomacy, maybe in one month, maybe in two months,' he said. 'We are not rushing it,' he said.

A spokesman for Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on 6 July 2007: 'Indonesia had repeatedly assured Singapore that it would not depart from what was agreed upon’. 'With that assurance, and in the spirit of friendship and cooperation, Singapore had made a proposal to Indonesia on how to move the process forward. We are still waiting for Indonesia's reply.'

Not wanting to let the DCA negotiations hold up military ties, Singapore's Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant-General (LG) Desmond Kuek went on a two-day (12 and 13 July 2007) introductory visit to Indonesia that was hosted by the Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian National Defence Forces, ACM Djoko Suyanto. General Kuek also called on the Defence Minister, Dr Juwono Sudarsono. Defence ties between Singapore and Indonesia, which go back more than 30 years, includes longstanding arrangements such as the Indonesia-Singapore Coordinated Patrols, which have been in place since 1992 to enhance maritime security in the Singapore Strait.

Outside ASEAN, Indonesia is also keen to increase military cooperation with China. The Indonesian House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I (foreign and defense affairs) believes that Indonesia-China military cooperation needs to be augmented. Part of the reason for this desire to step up relations is attributable to Indonesia’s policy of diversity in obtaining military supplies, especially since the US embargo which was lifted after the tsunami disaster had paralyzed Indonesian military operational readiness for a number of years.  

"Indonesia`s policy is independent and active, there are opportunities in Indonesia-China military cooperation and it is not wrong to look at how China has developed itself militarily," Guntur Sasono, leader of a House Commission I delegation making a working visit to China said. "In the matter of procurement of military equipment, we should buy what suits us and is suitable for our geographical conditions. So we need not always be dependent on any particular country," he said.

Guntur was especially interested in Chinese-made military vessels for use in Indonesian waters. Perhaps, the attractiveness of Chinese weapons lies in the cost factor. "If the prices (of military equipment made in China) are really more affordable, purchases more easily made under cooperation deals and the goods are of good quality, the House will encourage cooperation with China," another member of the House Commission I delegation, Tosari Widjaja said.  (16 July 2007)


Top-level diplomacy yet to close gap on defence pact   (Straits Times, 16 July 2007)

RI, RP to press for regional protection of migrant workers (Jakarta Post, 14 Jul 07)

Indonesia, the Philippines reaffirm defense and security cooperation (Antara, 13 July 2007)

RI, RP Agree to improve protection of their migrant workers (Antara, 13 Jul 07)

House Commission I sees need to step up mily cooperation with China (Antara, 13 July 2007)

IndonesiaPhilippines agree to cooperate in energy sector (Antara, 13 July 2007)

Singapore's Chief of Defence Force visits Indonesia (Channelnewsasia, 12 July 2007)

RI, China agree to cooperate in population field (Antara, 12 July 2007)

S`pore commited to increasing mily cooperation with TNI (Antara, 12 July 2007)

S`pore armed forces commander meets RI defense minister (Antara, 12 July 2007)