This week, Indonesia and Vietnam finally held the first iteration of their new defense dialogue. The dialogue, which has been discussed by the two countries for years, signifies the efforts by both sides to further institutionalize and strengthen the security aspect of ties despite lingering challenges.
As I have observed before, as Indonesia-Vietnam relations have developed over the years, from a comprehensive partnership agreement signed in 2003 to a strategic partnership in 2013, the two countries have also looked to make progress in the security domain as well in a notable example of greater intra-Asian security networking between influential Southeast Asian states. Current defense ties, which are officially developed under the memorandum of understanding on defense inked in 2010, include a mix of engagements including exercises and dialogues. Both sides have also attempted to develop mechanisms such as better coast guard collaboration and a coordination mechanism for protecting fishermen and fishing vessels to manage the remaining challenge of infringements by fishermen and some continued clashes in the maritime domain.
Recent defense dialogues have focused on further steps to implement their memorandum of understanding inked in 2010; efforts to develop defense ties more generally. including joint exercises, dialogues, and military equipment sales; and means to better manage challenges, including the treatment of fishermen amid some recent clashes at sea.
Among the ways to further strengthen the infrastructure of their defense relationship that both sides had been discussing for years was the establishment of a new defense policy dialogue. Both sides had seen the institutionalization and holding dialogue as a further high-level avenue to discuss security ties, in addition to other mechanisms in place such as the joint working group for their armed forces.
This week, Indonesia and Vietnam finally held the first iteration of their defense dialogue. The first Vietnam-Indonesia Defense Policy Dialogue was held on June 25, and it was co-chaired by Vietnam Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh and the secretary general of the Indonesian defense ministry, Agus Setiadji.
Both sides also discussed ways to promote collaboration further. Per the official account of the deliberations by Vietnam’s defense ministry, these includes areas such as delegation exchanges, cooperation activities between individual services, and supporting each other at multilateral fora given that Vietnam will be chairing ASEAN in 2020 and both Indonesia and Vietnam will be holders of nonpermanent seats on the UN Security Council next year.
At the dialogue and in other interactions tied to Setiadji’s visit, there was also discussion of the remaining challenges for the relationship. Of particular note was illegal fishing, where both sides discussed issues related to Vietnamese fishermen that infringe into Indonesian waters in violation of the law. Beyond that, the two sides also discussed proposals to minimize potential differences, including establishing mechanisms at the defense ministry and between the navies and coast guards to deal with crises.
Reflecting on the significance of the holding of the first defense dialogue, Vietnam’s Defense Minister Ngo Xuan Lich, who also met with Setiadji, noted that the high-level nature of the interaction provided an opportunity for senior officials to discuss areas of defense cooperation as well as wider regional and global issues, in addition to facilitating tangible collaboration.
Unsurprisingly, few additional specifics were publicly disclosed about the private deliberations. Nonetheless, with the new defense dialogue in place, both sides now have one additional mechanism with which to manage the mix of opportunities and challenges that remain both in their defense ties as well as their overall relationship amid wider regional and global trends and developments.