Indonesia, Japan seek stronger security, economic ties in China’s shadow

(Reuters) – Japan and Indonesia agreed on Tuesday to speed up talks on the export of Japanese defence gear and technology to Indonesia and to have their defence and foreign ministers meet soon, reflecting concern over China’s regional assertiveness.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is on a four-day trip to Vietnam and Indonesia, his first since taking office last month, and part of Tokyo’s effort to strengthen ties with the two key countries in Southeast Asia.

“To further advance security and defence cooperation between the two countries amid the changing regional situation, we’ve agreed to hold a meeting of foreign and defence ministers at an early date and to accelerate talks over the transfer of defence equipment and technology,” Suga said after discussions with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at Bogor palace near Jakarta.

The Indonesian leader, widely known as Jokowi, said during a joint media appearance that a stronger partnership between Tokyo and Jakarta was vital “especially amid increasingly glaring rivalry between world’s big powers,” an apparent reference to an intensifying confrontation between United States and China.

Suga and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed in principle on a military equipment and technology export pact on Monday.

Suga must balance Japan’s deep economic ties with China with security concerns, including Beijing’s growing push to assert claims over disputed East China Sea isles. Some in his ruling party want to see a harder line, after ties warmed under Abe.

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