President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is expected to try and fortify maritime security cooperation with the Philippines during bilateral talks this week, ahead of the launch of a lucrative trade route that aims to boost connectivity along the borders of the neighboring countries.
Jokowi will embark on a state visit to the Philippines on April 28 and will meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila for bilateral talks on subjects ranging from connectivity and border delineation issues to maritime security.
“The main focus [of the visit] is to increase connectivity between the two nations in order to spur economic growth and prosperity, whether bilaterally or regionally,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir said during a weekly press briefing on Tuesday.
Other than Jokowi’s usual focus on deepening economic cooperation, there will also be an emphasis on maritime security between the two countries, Arrmanatha said. However, he did not elaborate any further on his statement.
Both countries have had to deal with a string of kidnappings for ransom of late, with many of the crimes taking place in the Sulu Sea on the northwestern side of Mindanao Island.
There is currently a trilateral maritime security cooperation framework between Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, but it is nowhere near as solid as the existing Malacca Straits coordinated patrols agreement between Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
In the bilateral meeting, Jokowi and Duterte will witness the signing of two agreements, one of which is a Joint Declaration on the establishment of sea connectivity between the port cities Davao and General Santos in the Philippines and Bitung in North Sulawesi.
“The launch of the new shipping route will increase trade between the two nations,” the spokesman said, adding that another memorandum of understanding would focus on cooperation in the field of agriculture.
The Davao-General SantosBitung route for roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) vessels will be officiated by Jokowi and Duterte in Davao City on April 30 as part of a series of meetings and events under the banner of the 30th ASEAN Summit in Manila this year.
The route connects a number of priority infrastructure projects under the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) initiative — a cooperation framework that aims to close the development gap among nations in the region’s east.
It is also one of the priorities within the ASEAN Ro-Ro Network initiative, which aims to improve connectivity in sea channels among Southeast Asian nations by halving shipping times in the new trade corridor.
At present, it takes three to five weeks to ship goods from Bitung to Davao, as traders are forced to make a stopover in Manila before shipping to Indonesian port cities like Makassar, Surabaya or Jakarta.
Meanwhile, the new Ro-Ro route is expected to expedite shipment to around 36 hours excluding port stay, the ministry’s director for Asia-Pacific and African intraregional cooperation, Benyamin Carnadi, said.
Border talks and cooperation to thwart transnational organized crime such as drug trafficking and terrorism will also be among the issues that both leaders will raise during their meeting, Arrmanatha added. The ministry is currently waiting for the House of Representatives to finalize the ratification of a 2014 border agreement with the Philippines to settle the issue of overlapping exclusive economic zones in the Mindanao and Sulawesi seas.