US, Indonesia discuss South China Sea

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudis met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudis met Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced the launch of a "strategic dialogue" with Indonesia, and Washington said the two countries committed to working together on issues that include defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Meeting in Washington, Blinken and Indonesian Foreign Minster Retno Marsudi also committed to work together against COVID-19 and the climate crisis and to boost bilateral trade and economic ties, the State Department said.

Indonesia is the largest country and economy in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc Washington sees as key to its efforts to stand up to China's growing influence in Asia.

The two sides agreed to establish a "strategic partnership" in 2015, but Blinken told reporters while standing alongside Marsudi that the dialogue was only now actually being initiated.

"Indonesia is a strong democratic partner to the United States; we are working together on so many different fronts," he said on Tuesday, adding Washington appreciated Jakarta's strong voice within ASEAN.

Marsudi told Blinken a strong partnership with Indonesia would be "a key asset for your increasing engagement in the region".

She said the United States was one of the important partners for ASEAN in implementing its Indo-Pacific outlook.

"It is my hope, and the Indonesian government's, to advance the bilateral relationship with the US, from health to SDGs, from education, to economy, and beyond," she said, using the acronym for sustainable development goals.

A State Department statement on the meeting said the two discussed steps for pandemic recovery. Blinken noted Washington had donated eight million vaccine doses to Indonesia, and the countries were also working together on oxygen and therapeutics.

Marsudi and Blinken also "expressed shared views on maritime security" and committed to "defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and continuing collaboration in cybersecurity and preventing cybercrime," the statement said.

It said Blinken commended Indonesia's efforts to support Afghanistan's peace negotiations and stressed the importance of restoring ASEAN member Myanmar to the path to democracy.

On climate, the two sides "discussed opportunities for Indonesia to raise its climate ambition", it said, without elaborating.

Australian Associated Press