Indonesia, Vietnam discuss South China Sea security, EVs as Jokowi visits

Indonesia, Vietnam discuss South China Sea security, EVs as Jokowi visits
Chinese militia vessels operate at Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea, Dec 2, 2023.
PHOTO: Reuters file

HANOI — The leaders of Indonesia and Vietnam highlighted security in the South China Sea and investments in Indonesia by electric vehicle maker VinFast in joint statements after a meeting on Friday (Jan 12) as President Joko Widodo visited Hanoi.

The two Southeast Asian countries are strengthening their ties with corporate investments, more trade and closer co-operation on boosting security in the contested South China Sea amid tensions with Beijing.

Vietnam's President Vo Van Thuong stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea in a statement after he met with Widodo, widely known as Jokowi.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on fisheries co-operation. The text is not public, but it may address Vietnamese fishermen's encroachments in other countries' waters, which is a regular source of tension in the region.

Ahead of Jokowi's trip, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the country was ready to work with other Southeast Asian nations to finalise a long-delayed code of conduct for the South China Sea, a strategic waterway for trade and energy.

A Vietnamese official confirmed the matter would be discussed in Hanoi during Jokowi's visit.

A Southeast Asian code of conduct would be seen as a blow to China.

Beijing and Southeast Asian nations have been trying since 2002 to set up a framework to negotiate the code of conduct, but progress has been slow despite commitments by all parties to advance and expedite the process.

Indonesia and Vietnam agreed in 2022 to recognise the boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zones in the South China Sea, a move that was seen as a challenge to Beijing, which claims almost the entire strategic trade route.

Indonesia had previously said it planned to export gas to Vietnam from gasfields in the South China Sea.

"We agreed to co-operate on energy transition," Jokowi said in his statement alongside Thuong.


Jokowi who will visit VinFast's EV factory in northern Vietnam on Saturday, praised the company's plans to invest US$1.2 billion (S$1.59 billion) in a plant and other operations over the longer term in Indonesia.

Thuong encouraged Indonesian firms to invest more in Vietnam, including in the banking sector.

The two nations also signed a memorandum of understanding on information technology and communication co-operation.

Bilateral trade between the nations rose 23 per cent to US$14.1 billion last year and the goal is for that to soon reach US$15 billion, the Vietnamese president said.

Jokowi's visit to Hanoi is part of a larger Southeast Asian trip that also included a prior stop in the Philippines and an expected visit to Brunei this weekend before Indonesian elections next month.

He is expected to meet other Vietnamese leaders later on Friday, but contrary to normal practise, Jokowi is not scheduled to meet Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, amid concerns about the elderly leader's health.

Since 2022, Vietnam has pursued a strategy of improving ties with global powers and partners, and Thuong said he was confident formal relations could be boosted with Indonesia as well.

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