U.S., Indonesia commit to South China Sea defense in 'strategic dialogue'

By Doyinsola Oladipo and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Tuesday that it would enter into a "strategic dialogue" with Indonesia, and Washington said the two countries had pledged to work together on issues such as defending the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
At a meeting in Washington, Blinken and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also pledged to work together against COVID-19 and the climate crisis and to strengthen bilateral trade and economic ties, the State Department said.
Indonesia is the largest country and economy in the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc that Washington sees as key to its efforts to withstand China's growing influence in Asia.
The two sides agreed on a "strategic partnership" in 2015, but Blinken told reporters alongside Marsudi that the dialogue was only now actually beginning.
“Indonesia is a strong democratic partner with the United States; we are working together on so many different fronts, ”he said, adding that Washington values ​​Jakarta's strong voice within ASEAN.
Marsudi told Blinken that a strong partnership with Indonesia was "an important asset for your increasing involvement in the region".
She said the United States is one of ASEAN's key partners in implementing its Indo-Pacific perspective.
"It is my hope, and that of the Indonesian government, to advance bilateral relations with the US, from health to the SDGs, from education to business and beyond," she said, using the acronym for sustainable development goals.
A statement by the Foreign Ministry on the meeting said the two steps discussed to restore the pandemic. Blinken noted that Washington had donated 8 million doses of vaccine to Indonesia and the countries were also collaborating on oxygen and therapeutics.
Marsudi and Blinken also expressed "shared views on maritime security" and pledged to "defend the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and continue cooperation on cybersecurity and prevent cybercrime," the statement said.
Blinken praised Indonesia's efforts to support Afghanistan's peace negotiations and stressed the importance of restoring ASEAN member Myanmar on the path to democracy.
On the subject of climate, the two sides discussed "Opportunities for Indonesia to increase its climate ambitions," it said without going into detail.
The talks took place before Blinken was supposed to take part in a virtual meeting with ASEAN, several members of which have competing claims in the South China Sea with those of China. Beijing regards almost the entire strategic waterway as its own and has built its strength there.
Blinken participates in a week of meetings with regional colleagues to show that Southeast Asia is serious about pushing back China.
Murray Hiebert, Southeast Asia expert at the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there was little time to develop the strategic partnership agreement reached under the Obama administration before former President Donald Trump took office.
"Agreements like this were not a priority for his government," he said of a deal that spanned multiple areas, including defense, energy and broader economic ties.
"It will take time to work out details in all of these areas and will require a significant concentration of senior foreign, defense and economic officials."
(Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo, Daphne Psaledakis, Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom; editing by Chris Reese, Sandra Maler and Dan Grebler)
In this article:
Antony Blink
US government official and 71st US Secretary of State
Retno Marsudi
Indonesian Ambassador, Minister

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