Japan, Indonesia Sign Defense Deal amid Beijing’s Maritime Expansionism

Ronna Nirmala
Japan, Indonesia Sign Defense Deal amid Beijing’s Maritime Expansionism Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, (far left), Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi meet with reporters after their two-plus-two meetings in Tokyo, March 30, 2021.

Indonesia and Japan signed an agreement on Tuesday for the export of Japanese-made military equipment and technology to Jakarta, as both nations face Beijing’s increasing expansionism and maritime activities in disputed regional waters.

Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi inked the deal in Tokyo after a so-called 2+2 meeting, which the two countries’ foreign ministers also attended. 

“I had the honor of signing an agreement on the transfer of military equipment and technology from Japan to Indonesia. I think this is a historical first in bilateral relations between Japan and Indonesia,” Prabowo said during a joint press conference afterward.

Details of the defense agreement were not released.

In November, The Japan Times quoted a source in the Japanese government as saying that Tokyo was in talks to export new-generation destroyers to the Indonesian Navy.

Officials at the Indonesian Defense Ministry could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

Prabowo said he had “intensive” talks with Japanese leaders and senior officials on how to increase cooperation in the defense sector.

“We support and invite the Japanese side to take higher participation in our defense industry. We also invite the Japanese side to participate in the modernization of the Indonesian defense capacity,” he said.

“We encourage joint training between our services, maritime and also land forces.”

He also proposed more training in Japan for Indonesian military officers and cadets.  

South China, East China Seas

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters without mentioning China that Tokyo and Jakarta were concerned about the situation in the South China Sea.

“Both sides [Indonesia and Japan] also shared serious concerns about the continued and strengthened unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force,” Motegi said, in what appeared to be a reference to China.

He said Japan was also concerned about China’s new law that allows its coast guard to use force on foreign vessels in waters it claims in the South China and East China Seas.

“[Defense] Minister Kishi and I expressed serious concerns about recent developments in the region, such as China’s coast guard law,” Motegi told reporters.

Kishi said the law “should not infringe other countries’ legitimate rights and interests.”

China and Japan have a long-running territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands, which China calls the Diaoyu Dao. The uninhabited islets sit in the deep south of the East China Sea and are a recurring flashpoint between the two countries.

China, meanwhile, claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own despite an international arbitration court in 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines, in a case brought against Beijing over the contested waterway.

Six other Asian governments – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam – have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China.

While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

China has asserted what it claims is its jurisdiction through deployments of its coast guard and navy, both of which constitute the largest fleets of their kind in the world, according to the 2020 China Military Power Report by the U.S. Department of Defense.

In January, the National People’s Congress passed the Coast Guard Law of the People’s Republic of China to help defend “national sovereignty, security, and maritime rights and interests.” The China Coast Guard (CCG) has operated across the South China Sea since 2013 and operates in the East China Sea waters.

The U.S. State Department last month criticized the law.

“The United States joins the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan and other countries in expressing concern with China’s recently enacted coast guard law, which may escalate ongoing territorial and maritime disputes,” department spokesman Ned Price had said.

In Tokyo on Tuesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the Indo-Pacific should be “a region of peace and prosperity.

“This can only be fulfilled if cooperation is continuously pursued and when every country respects and implements international law,” she told reporters.

During talks with Prabowo on Sunday, Japan’s Kishi spoke about the importance of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” Japan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday. 

“Minister Kishi underscored the requirement to uphold and reinforce the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ based on the rule of law,” the ministry said.

The two ministers also stressed the importance of freedom of navigation and flight over the strategic maritime area, according to statements issued by the ministries of the two countries.


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