In what appears to be a historic chapter in Indonesian and Japanese bilateral relations, both nations have forged a defense cooperation agreement that will pave the way for Indonesia to procure Japanese military hardware with a possibility of technology transfers as well.
The agreement was announced after the so-called '2 plus 2' ministerial meetings attended by the foreign and defense ministers of both countries on Thursday, which came amid simmering territorial tensions in the South China Sea (SCS) between China and Indonesia's fellow ASEAN members Philippine and Vietnam.
With a raft of outcomes from the meetings that see Indonesian and Japanese relations achieve a new high, Indonesia is the first ASEAN member to have the privilege of holding such a rare meeting, following similar meetings held by Japan and its allies the US and Australia.
The main outcome of the agreement relates to Indonesia's potential purchase of advanced Japanese military products, after the latter passed legislation on peace and security that has lifted prohibitions on exporting military hardware imposed since the end of World War II.
'In today's meeting, we've agreed to start negotiations on defense equipment and technology transfers,' said Japan's Defense Minister Gen Nakatani in an interview at his office after the meeting.
'We like to focus on the holding of discussions [on the procurement] in relation to maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,' he said.
According to Nakatani, Indonesia's plan to procure US-2 amphibious aircraft used in maritime rescue operations was high on the agenda.
However, he said that when it came to technology transfers a comprehensive and concrete agreement should be forged.
'There should be a clear rule such as how long this cooperation can be conducted and to what extent. Going forward we need more concrete proposals and more coordination with the Indonesian government,' he said. According to an Indonesian official, the cost of one US-2 may amount to Rp 1 trillion (US$71.4 million).
Indonesia's Ambassador to Japan Yusron Ihza Mahendra said the defense cooperation would not only cover the US-2, but also other products, such as engines for Indonesian-made Anoa armored personnel carriers and for locally made military excavators.
Indonesia has been aggressively trying to purchase military hardware overseas, but on the basis of subsequent technology transfers.
Indonesia's Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said the historical defense cooperation should not be interpreted as adding to tension in the region.
'This meeting is not about forging a coalition for war. It is aimed at promulgating peace,' he said.
The meeting was a follow up to the meeting between President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this year, in which both leaders agreed to sign a legal umbrella for ensuing cooperation on a concrete level.
Prior to Thursday's meeting with Japan, Indonesia had been widely perceived by observers as leaning more toward China, as seen in a raft of benefits China has given to Indonesia, such as billions of dollars of infrastructure funding.
When asked whether the meeting with Japan would be interpreted differently by China, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi believed it would not in any way undermine that relationship.
'It will not be interpreted differently by China because this has clearly contributed to international peace and stability. We've had more or less similar meetings with China attended by our coordinating political, legal and security minister. We've also had a similar format with Australia as well,' she said.
China's role in the SCS dispute was also discussed during the meeting, with Indonesia calling on all parties in the dispute to fully and effectively implement an agreed declaration of conduct.
According to Retno, Indonesia has reaffirmed its stance that it is not among the claimants in the SCS conflict as it has no overlapping claims of any form, including over geographical and maritime features, territorial waters, exclusive economic zones or a continental shelf.
Outcomes of meeting
1. Both countries agree to open communication hotline between respective foreign ministers and defense ministers.
2. Similar meetings to be held every two years.
3. Indonesia emphasizes importance of maritime cooperation.
4. Indonesia expects Japan to implement points of maritime cooperation as agreed in recent East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur.
5. As an observer in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Japan expected to increase its role in the association of which Indonesia is current chair.
6. In regard to the South China Sea (SCS) dispute, Indonesia and Japan share similar spirit to ensure peace and stability in region.
7. Indonesia calls on all parties to end any activities that may escalate tension in SCS, abide by international rules and laws.
8. Indonesia calls on all parties in SCS dispute to fully and effectively implement declaration of conduct and early conclusion of code of conduct.
9. Indonesia reaffirms stance as non-claimant in SCS conflict with no overlapping claim of any form.
10. Counterterrorism cooperation.
11. Japan, Indonesia to exchange support in bid for non-permanent membership of UN Security Council.
12. Japan to help Indonesia increase capacity-building in Navy.
13. Further negotiations on Indonesia's procurement of military products and transfers of technology, with priority being purchase of US-2 amphibious aircraft.
14. Cyber and intelligence cooperation.
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