Indonesian military chief to visit China, may meet Xi Jinping

INDONESIA - Amid heightening tensions between Indonesia and its immediate neighbours, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Moeldoko is slated to visit China next week in a journey that might include a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Moeldoko told The Jakarta Post that he was scheduled to meet Chinese National Defence Minister Gen. Chang Wanquan and People's Liberation Army (PLA) chief of general staff Gen. Fang Fenghui.

He added that a meeting with Xi, who is also chairman of the Communist Party of China's Central Military Commission, was in the process of being arranged but had not yet been confirmed.

"Our grand topic will be how to develop military cooperation between our countries," he said.

Moeldoko, who will depart on Sunday evening and return Friday, said Indonesia was eyeing China's robust military industry as a potential future partner.

He added that the TNI, for example, could discuss and use Chinese weapons to complete its arsenal.

Also on the list were efforts to create stability in the South China Sea. Moeldoko stressed the need to reach a favourable situation for everyone in the region.

China is claiming most of the South China Sea pitting itself against other claimants: Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. China also claims parts of Indonesia's Natuna Islands.

Commenting on the planned visit, international affairs scholar Yeremia Lalisang said Indonesia should consider each step carefully since Indonesia was respected in the region and had played role as an honest broker in the South China Sea row.

He said that other countries could interpret the visit as Jakarta forging an alliance with Beijing.

"With its current position, such a visit will not be seen [by other countries] as 'business as usual'," he said.

"Since Indonesia allowed Chinese warships to pass through its waters after a military exercise near Australia, the visit will be interpreted as further evidence of Jakarta and Beijing's closeness."

Closer China-Indoneia military ties is seen as a possible threat to the interests of the US and its allies, such as Australia and the Philippines.

Therefore, Jakarta should carefully consider the implications of the visit, Yeremia told the Post.

Meanwhile, University of Indonesia international affairs expert Edy Prasetyono said the visit should not be seen as a threat by other ASEAN countries.

"Instead, Indonesia is in a position to assure China that it cannot always be in conflict with other ASEAN countries over the South China Sea issue: It will not be beneficial for China," he said.

"If China wants to be a superpower, it should realise that its interests are supposed to be global and the South China Sea issue is only part of it. There is no use being confrontational."

Edy also said that it was about time Indonesia formulated its relationship with China, saying both countries could be the region's pillars, together with India and Australia."

He also called on the TNI to delve deeper in the potential defence industry cooperation with China.