Jakarta. The United States stands ready to assist Indonesia in realizing its ambition to become a "global maritime fulcrum" and will help the Southeast Asian country maintain maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea and the North Natuna Sea, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday (23/01).
"We want to help realize President Jokowi’s [Joko Widodo] vision for Indonesia as a maritime fulcrum, we see that as a healthy and a very, very critical part of ensuring that our words are more than just words about wanting peace, but we actually work for peace in this region," Mattis said during a joint press statement with Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu in Central Jakarta.
Mattis added that the Indonesian and American armies can work together to ensure respect for the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the region. He also said that the United States is looking forward to help Indonesia maintain maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea and the North Natuna Sea.
Last Friday, the United States unveiled its new defense strategy that is now focused on addressing "great power competition." The new strategy is critical toward China’s approach in "using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea."
Though the United States is not party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), Mattis reaffirmed that his country is "basically fully aligned with it" and is "living up to the tenets, principles and spirit of Unclos," as opposed to other nations that have ratified the treaty but do not adhere to it.
Both China and Indonesia are parties to Unclos. The latter considers the role of Unclos in ocean governance as "indispensable and increasingly important."
The new US strategy also includes "maintaining favorable regional balances of power" in different regions, including the Indo-Pacific.
"America is deeply committed to the Indo-Pacific region," Mattis said.
The US defense focus on the region matches Indonesia’s own foreign policy priorities for 2018, which include developing regional policy planning by fostering strategic cooperation and dialogues.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said earlier this month that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) must be a major player in the development of Indo-Pacific’s regional policy architecture. Mattis echoed this sentiment in his statement on Tuesday.
"We see Asean as central to maintaining the security here … we share this ocean, and we want to maintain [it] in a peaceful mode so it can retain the option of making all nations more prosperous," Mattis said.
Mattis also said there is a lot of room for bilateral cooperation between Indonesia and the US, emphasizing that the United States values its relationship with Indonesia greatly and will not take it for granted.
According to Ryamizard, the United States plans to sell defense equipment to Indonesia, though he did not elaborate.
On Terrorism and North Korea
During their meeting, Ryamizard and Mattis also discussed the nuclear threat from North Korea, and they agreed that the United Nations should continue pressuring North Korea to uphold and respect international law.
They also discussed Ryamizard’s intelligence initiative, "Our Eyes," which includes sharing intelligence among countries in Southeast Asia to combat terrorist groups and maintain peace in the region.
The initiative is modeled after the post-World War Two "Five Eyes" intelligence alliance, which includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
"General Mattis said he will provide assistance, which is great because America possess advanced technology that can hopefully help us detect terrorist movements faster," Ryamizard said.