JAKARTA - The Japanese and Indonesian governments are set to establish on Wednesday the Japan-Indonesia Maritime Forum, in which the two countries will discuss maritime co-operation.
Under the new framework, Tokyo will support Jakarta's efforts to protect its maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea and other areas. By deepening co-operation with Indonesia, which has strong influence over the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and through multilateral participation, Japan hopes to counter China, which has been building military strongholds in the South China Sea.
Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia's coordinating minister for maritime affairs, will soon visit Japan and meet Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to sign an agreement on the matter.
The forum will comprise meetings of relevant ministers of the two countries and working groups. In particular, Japan will likely assist the development of ports and other infrastructure projects - part of Indonesia's national strategy - as well as the development of remote islands and the enhancement of maritime security capabilities, among others.
Indonesia is "neutral" with regard to sovereignty in the South China Sea - a stance that does not contest China's claims in the area. However, poaching by Chinese fishing boats off the Natuna Islands on the southern edge of the South China Sea has become a serious issue.
Given the circumstances, the Indonesian government is implementing such measures as the development of a fish market to support fishermen. If Indonesian fishing boats are always operating in the area off the island, it will help protect the area. Japan will support this move as well.
Japan had competed against China in a bid for a high-speed rail project in Indonesia, but lost. China, by utilizing its abundant financial muscle, is approaching the Southeast Asian nations with economic aid. In addition to Cambodia, which is said to be pro-China, Beijing is trying to bring on its side the Philippines, with which it has a territorial dispute over the South China Sea.
Japan and the Unites States called for the co-operation of other nations in dealing with China at the ASEAN-related Summit Meeting in September, but failed to achieve tangible results. The joint statement adopted by ASEAN and China, stating that they "undertake to resolve the territorial and jurisdictional disputes ... through friendly consultations and negotiations by the sovereign states directly concerned," served China's cause.
Japan wants to turn the tide by bringing Indonesia on side - the country often described as the leader of ASEAN.