JAKARTA — Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday that his country aimed to work more closely with Indonesia over maritime security, but there were no plans for the neighbours to hold joint patrols in the South China Sea.
In an interview with The Australian newspaper last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he would like to see joint patrols and intended to raise the idea with Mr Turnbull, but only if it did not further inflame tensions with China.
“We are not going to undertake any actions which would increase tensions in the South China Sea,” said Mr Turnbull when asked by a reporter whether Indonesia had raised the prospect of conducting joint patrols.
“Our commitment is to increase our cooperation with each other in terms of maritime security. So we talk about more collaboration, more coordination, but it has not been taken any further than that,” added Mr Turnbull, who is in Jakarta to attend a summit meeting of the 21-member Indian Ocean Rim Association.
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Mr Luhut Pandjaitan, also said after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday that he did not envisage joint patrols, though there were other areas to cooperate on.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about US$5 trillion (S$7.05 trillion) worth of trade passes each year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on parts of the sea.
Indonesia has traditionally taken a neutral position on the South China Sea, acting as a buffer between China and fellow members of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) that have the most at stake: The Philippines and Vietnam.
But Jakarta was angered after China said the two countries had “overlapping claims” to waters close to Indonesia’s Natuna Islands and staged large-scale exercises on the edge of South China Sea last October.
Australia — which says it takes no sides on South China Sea disputes but has supported American-led freedom of navigation activities in the region —has been rebuilding ties with Indonesia after a recent military spat.
Canberra is also opening the door to greater trade with Beijing as Australia-United States ties fray in the era of President Donald Trump.
Mr Trump reportedly ripped into Mr Turnbull during a phone call in January over a refugee deal agreed with the administration of then-president Barack Obama.
Australia also said that it was working to recast the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the US and opened the door for China to sign up after Mr Trump ditched the trade pact in January. AGENCIES