Indonesia and Australia Boost Regional Security Ties

Indonesia and Australia Boost Regional Security Ties
(L-R) Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto pose for photographs during the 8th Australian-Indonesia 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministers’ Meeting at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, February 9, 2023. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Indonesia and Australia are set to boost regional security ties after the countries announced that they would upgrade their existing defence partnership agreement to a cooperation agreement that will be binding under international law.

In a joint media release on Feb. 10, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles and his Indonesia counterpart, the Indonesian Defence Minister Pranowo Subianto, said that the countries intend for the new agreement to bolster strong defence cooperation between the two countries.

“We intend for the new agreement to bolster our strong defence cooperation by supporting increased dialogue, strengthening interoperability, and enhancing practical arrangements,” the defence ministers said.

“Together, Australia and Indonesia make an important contribution to regional security. Elevating our existing arrangement sends an important message of our shared commitment to a region that embraces ASEAN centrality and the objectives and principles of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, where sovereignty is respected.”

Negotiations for the new agreement will include reciprocal access to training ranges and streamlined entry and exit processes for joint activities.

During the bilateral discussions, Marles noted that Indonesia is one of Australia’s most important partners and closest friends.

“Together, we make an important contribution to a stable, peaceful, prosperous and resilient region with ASEAN at its core,” he said.

Indonesia Concerned About Chinese Presence in Territorial Waters

The move from Indonesia to increase defence ties with Australia comes after Indonesian authorities deployed a warship, a maritime patrol plane and a drone to monitor a Chinese coastguard vessel that was active in an area of Indonesia’s resource-rich North Natuna Sea in January.

China has tried to claim the area under its 9-dash line policy. This is despite the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague finding China’s claim illegal in 2016.

Indonesia has also not recognised China’s claim, stating that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the southern end of the South China Sea is Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

“The Chinese vessel has not conducted any suspicious activities,” Laksamana Muhammad Ali, the chief of the Indonesian navy, told Reuters. “However, we need to monitor it as it has been in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for some time.”

According to the Indonesian Ocean Justice Initiative, tracking data showed that the vessel, the CCG 5901, was sailing in the Natuna Sea, particularly near the Tuna Bloc gas field and the Vietnamese Chim Sao oil and gas field from Dec. 30, 2022.

Indonesia signed an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) agreement with Vietnam to develop gas fields in the Natuna Sea, with a total estimated investment of more than $3 billion up to the start of production.

However, this is not the first time Indonesia has shadowed Chinese vessels. A similar event occurred in 2021 when Indonesian vessels shadowed Chinese vessels near a submersible oil rig performing well appraisals in the Tuna block.

Indonesia Leads China Pushback in South East Asia

According to thinktank Global Strat View, Indonesia is leading the nations of South East Asia in pushing back against China after its experience with Beijing over the Natuna dispute.

“Reports of Indonesia’s plan to turn the Natuna Regency into a special economic zone (SEZ) have not gone well in China, which claims the entire South China sea as its own. But for Indonesia, the designation will introduce an array of incentives to bolster the region’s tourism, fishing, energy, and security sectors,” the think tank said in a recent report.

Global Strat View notes that China’s forceful push into Indonesia’s economic zones has resulted in the Indonesian government refusing to comply in 2021 when the Chinese regime directed Indonesia to stop drilling in the Natuna islands to extract oil and gas because it falls within its “nine-dash line.”

Indonesia Increasing Engagement With Western Allies

Indonesia has also increasingly begun to engage with Western allies, particularly in the defence realm.
In 2022 Indonesia hosted 14 nations for its joint combat exercise with the United States, Super Garuda Shield.

The inclusion of 12 other nations—including Australia, Japan, and Singapore—in the exercise, which is a foundation for the military partnership between the United States and Indonesia, made it one of the most extensive joint multinational exercises in the Indo-Pacific region.

In addition, Canada, France, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and the United Kingdom joined as observer nations.

U.S. Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding General of the U.S. Army Pacific, noted that the exercise showed how Indonesia’s bond with the United States and other regional powers had grown.

“It’s a symbol of the U.S.-Indonesia bond and the growing relationship between land forces in this consequential region… because land forces are the glue that binds the region’s security architecture together,” he said.

“We do that together by building readiness, building relationships, and by building trust. Bringing our forces together like this, we stitch the fabric of regional security into something lasting.”

Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
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