On March 20, Japan and Indonesia held the second iteration of a new high-level maritime security focus group discussion that both sides had started last year. The interaction marks just one of several developments that have occurred within the maritime security domain in the broader bilateral defense relationship that continue to advance amid broader strategic dynamics as well as the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties in 2018.
As I have noted repeatedly in these pages, Japan and Indonesia have been looking to advance their defense ties over the past few years, with maritime security being a key component of that (See: “What’s Behind the New Indonesia-Japan Maritime Forum?”). That is no surprise: apart from the logic of bilateral collaboration itself on this front, there are wider strategic dynamics at play, including Japan’s ongoing efforts to boost defense ties with Southeast Asia, and rising concern about China’s maritime assertiveness in the East China Sea and South China Sea (See: “Why Did Indonesia Just Rename its Part of the South China Sea?”). The ongoing collaboration has continued on into 2018, which marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two sides.
The new maritime security Focus Group Discussion (FGD) between the two sides, which is just one of a series of mechanisms both sides have set up in this domain. The idea behind the initiative, which was publicly floated by Japan formally earlier last year, was to hold a series of regular discussions where both sides could exchange views on maritime security issues, from opportunities and challenges in the bilateral relationship to regional and global issues including the South China Sea.
Following the proposal floated by Japan last February, the first iteration of the Maritime Security FGD was held at the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta last March. And this week, both sides held the second iteration of the dialogue, this time at the Indonesian defense ministry.
The second iteration of the Japan-Indonesia Maritime Security FGD was attended by Indonesian and Japanese officials including Kentaro Sonoura, a key adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Sonoura was on a trip to Indonesia that also saw him meet with other key Indonesian officials including Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu as part of broader, ongoing attempts to improve the bilateral defense relationship.
Unsurprisingly, both sides did not publicly disclose much about what was discussed at the meeting beyond noting that it was a useful opportunity to exchange views and experiences on issues of common interest and a testament to the importance of the partnership between the two countries. And, of course, progress on some areas of defense ties have not lived up to the sunny rhetoric advanced by both sides publicly. Nonetheless, as we witness more maritime security collaboration in the Asia-Pacific, it is worth paying attention to the development of interactions such as these within key broader bilateral defense relationships that are often missed in the headlines.