JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Amid two recent maritime standoffs in Natuna waters near the South China Sea (SCS), Indonesia has managed to mend ties with Vietnam after President Joko Widodo and the secretary-general of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), Mr Nguyen Phu Trong, talked in a rare and historic meeting in Jakarta on Wednesday.
The meeting produced key agreements in a number of fields, ranging from education, energy, village development, law and maritime and fisheries, in which a speedy completion of the limits of exclusive economic zones (EEZ) between the two countries to prevent future maritime standoffs and stability in the SCS had become the focal point of the high-profile discussions.
In a joint press statement at Merdeka Palace after the meeting, Mr Joko said Vietnam had also agreed to work with Indonesia to curb rampant illegal fishing in order to achieve a sustainable fishery.
“In the maritime and fishery sector, Indonesia and Vietnam agreed to speed up negotiations on the limits of the EEZs between the two countries. Vietnam also supports Indonesia’s cause to achieve a sustainable fishery by jointly curbing illegal fishing,” said Mr Joko.
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As for the situation in the SCS, Mr Joko said that the two leaders agreed to make Asean the engine of peace and stability in the region.
Unlike Vietnam, Indonesia is not a claimant in the SCS. However, Indonesia has been involved in several maritime standoffs in Natuna waters with Vietnam because the two countries have overlapping claims in the area.
Data from the Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry shows that out of a total of 75 vessels arrested for illegal fishing this year, 63 were from Vietnam.
In a move to ease the tensions, Mr Joko appointed the Maritime Security Board (Bakamla), dubbed as Indonesia’s coast guard, to sign the maritime sector agreement.
“The letter of intent about the coast guard is expected to build trust between the two counterparts. Better communication is important so that any incidents in the future could be handled swiftly by them,” Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said.
Mr Retno said that Indonesia and Vietnam had overlapping claims on their respective EEZs near Natuna waters.
“It is important to solve this issue in order to avoid incidents in EEZs with regard to vessels. If the limits are agreed then it will be easier to implement law,” Mr Retno said, adding that the House of Representatives would ratify the EEZ borders in the form of law after the two countries reached final agreements.
Mr Retno said that when the ratification by Indonesia and Vietnam was done it would be sent to the United Nations as a reference document to solve any future problems in the EEZs.
After meeting Mr Joko, Mr Trong gave a keynote speech and answered questions at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, emphasising that consultation and consensus would remain important and distinctive features of Asean’s decision-making process.
“We need to continue the consultations to achieve consensus; without consensus it is impossible to have solidarity and unity within Asean,” he told the audience at CSIS.
While admitting Asean has had difficulty achieving consensus on a spate of issues, the Communist Party chief said consensus-building was an important part of achieving solidarity.
Mr Trong commented on the “spectacular flexibility” of the consultation and consensus principles, singling them out as the way of the future for Asean.
“For countries outside South-east Asia, especially major powers, we want to share in the understanding that Asean centrality is in line with common interests,” he said.