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Jakarta Post

Pompeo to visit Jakarta amid increased US-China rivalry

  • Dian Septiari
    Dian Septiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, October 26, 2020   /   04:09 pm
Pompeo to visit Jakarta amid increased US-China rivalry Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (right) receives US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the ministry compound in Jakarta, on Aug. 8, 2018. Pompeo is set to visit Jakarta again next week as part of his tour of the Indo-Pacific region. (Antara/Hafidz Mubarak A)

Amid the increasingly aggressive rivalry between the United States and China, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to Jakarta next week may further consolidate efforts to antagonize Beijing and test Indonesia’s free and active foreign policy.

Indonesia will be the last country on Pompeo’s overseas itinerary, which starts this weekend in India, before moving to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said she would have a bilateral meeting with Pompeo, and expressed hopes that the visit would strengthen the relationship between Indonesia and the US.

“The US is one of Indonesia's most important partners. We hope to continuously build a strong and beneficial partnership with the US,” she said this week.

In a press conference on Thursday, Pompeo said that in all of the meetings he wanted to find the best ways to cooperate to “preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific” and discuss “how free nations can work together to thwart threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party”.

Washington has been aggressively promoting the Indo-Pacific order, a reimagining of the Asia-Pacific region that aims to take the spotlight away from China’s growing influence in the region. Most recently, the US has turned to Southeast Asian and South Asian nations to recruit allies in the superpower rivalry.

Speaking about the planned visit, US assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, David Stilwell, said Indonesia was important because it was a “pillar of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

“It’s in a very key and strategic location. The United States and Indonesia share a vision of a rules-based order in Southeast Asia, and the United States is a stalwart supporter of Indonesia’s sovereignty,” he said in a statement.

Pompeo's expected trip to Jakarta comes following Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto's visit to Washington last week for a meeting with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Prabowo and Esper agreed to further tighten defense and maritime security cooperation between the two countries. The two ministers discussed regional security, bilateral defense priorities and defense acquisitions, the US Department of Defense reported in a statement issued on Oct. 16.

An international relations expert from Bandung’s Padjajaran University, Teuku Rezasyah, said there had to be some sort of unfinished business from Prabowo’s visit to the Pentagon last week to warrant Pompeo’s visit.

He said the US might be seeking follow-up from Indonesia on Prabowo’s visit to Washington and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to Indonesia, among other issues, especially with regard to the government’s rejection of the proposal that US spy planes operate in Indonesia, and the rejection of China’s plan to turn certain Indonesian regions into bases for military logistics.

Read also: Japan's Suga dismisses concern over ‘Asian NATO’ in Indo-Pacific

Reuters recently reported that Indonesia had rebuffed US high-level approaches to grant landing and refueling rights to its P-8 surveillance planes that monitor Chinese military activity in the South China Sea.

Meanwhile, during his visit to Jakarta in early September, Prabowo’s Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe reportedly proposed that Indonesia build a military base, which was also rejected. Prabowo spokesperson Dahnil Azhar Simanjuntak said Indonesia upheld its free and active foreign policy.

“We always uphold the principle of a free and active foreign policy, especially with regard to military installations. Indonesia will never participate in or become involved in conflicts with countries in the world, let alone become a proxy,” he said in a video aired on Kompas TV in September.

Rezasyah said that Indonesia’s refusal to entertain either request brought about its own risks, namely the loss of opportunity to extract concessions from both sides.

“If Indonesia says yes to China, there will be added value to the existing comprehensive strategic partnership agreement, for example financial assistance for infrastructure development. The same applies with the US, […] What is certain is that in the context of global rivalry, these two countries are willing to pay a high price,” Rezasyah suggested.

“The US may set up a situation where it acknowledges that Indonesia is independent, but can indirectly support the US by ensuring the security of its strategic straits. […] For that, there needs to be a concession, perhaps to prove that Indonesia is truly independent, [the US may] give permission or [alleviate] pressure on Indonesia in its purchase of Sukhoi 35,” he said.

Read also: Pompeo to visit RI amid rising US-China rivalry

Stilwell has said the US has been very forthcoming in maritime domain awareness and maritime security, as Indonesia had pushed back on Chinese ships fishing in its Exclusive Economic Zones in the North Natuna Sea, which borders the South China Sea.

“When you ask what the US has to offer, it’s security,” he said.

Indonesia, unlike several other countries in Southeast Asia, is not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute, in which the sovereignty and exclusive rights that countries have over the busy maritime trade routes are contested.