Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa in Jakarta on Thursday as part of his six-day ASEAN tour, a move believed to be part of China’s attempt to regain its diplomatic grip within the Southeast Asian grouping.
At the joint press conference held after the meeting, Marty applauded his Chinese counterpart saying the Asian superpower had shown indication that it agreed to pursue a peaceful solution to the territorial disputes in the resource-rich South China Sea.
“Mr. Wang Yi and I have just agreed to push the discussion of the South China Sea CoC [Code of Conduct] through the ASEAN-China Working Group mechanism,” Marty said.
Wang, echoed Marty’s statement, saying China would always support efforts to settle disputes in the South China Sea through consultation with relevant countries.
“China will do its best to maintain peace and stability in the area. This will not change,” he said. “China’s relationship with Indonesia is one of our most important international ties because it covers very wide fields.”
Indonesia, the biggest economy in Southeast Asia, was the second country visited by Wang after Thailand in this first foreign trip since his appointment in March. His next destinations are Singapore and Brunei Darussalam.
Wang’s decision to visit ASEAN countries first led analysts to posit that China is concerned with renewing its relationship with Southeast Asian nations, particularly with influential powers like Indonesia.
Wang’s tour to ASEAN countries resembled the so-called “shuttle diplomacy” carried out by Marty, immediately after the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in July 2012, failed to issue a joint communiqué for the first time in the grouping’s 45-year history.
Then ASEAN’s chair, Cambodia, which was considered by many as an ally to China, refused to have the South China Sea issue mentioned in the communiqué.
Marty then volunteered to be a troubleshooter by visiting his counterparts in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore, which resulted in ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea.
Wang’s current trip was made following the ASEAN 22nd summit in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, last month, which many considered to be a success particularly on the issue of the territorial disputes.
Observers said ASEAN managed to come together in the summit, and moved on from the Phnom Penh fiasco.
Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law expert from the University of Indonesia, said China would always rely on Indonesia to deal with ASEAN.
“Indonesia has always been important to China, not only because it is the biggest economy in the region, but also because Indonesia is not one of the South China Sea claimants. Its power and neutrality has always made all relevant parties to give attention to any of Indonesia’s moves,” Hikmahanto said.
Later on Thursday, Wang also held a meeting with Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa. The two discussed plans to expand trade and investment between the two countries.
According to the Trade Ministry, Indonesia-China trade volume in 2012 reached US$51 billion with a deficit of $7.7 billion at the Indonesian side. The volume represented a 21.4 percent increase from $49 billion in 2011.
In the conference, Wang also disclosed about China’s plan to open a consular service in Denpasar, Bali.
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