Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is shoring up support to boost maritime security in the disputed waters of the South China Sea in order to counter Beijing's growing influence in the region. During talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo, he made it clear that maritime issues would be given top priority in regional affairs.
As part of his four-nation tour, which took him to Indonesia on Sunday, 15 January, he held lengthy discussions with the Indonesian leader on China's military buildup in the region. "As both countries are maritime nations, maritime cooperation is a top priority. Japan will proactively advance cooperation in Indonesia's development of remote islands and maritime security," Abe told reporters following his talks in Jakarta. "The issue of South China Sea has drawn the attention of the international community and directly affects the peace in the region."
Following an agreement with the Indonesian president to boost cooperation, Abe and Widodo decided that the foreign and defence ministers of both the countries would meet shortly. Without explicitly referring to China, the two leaders said regional conflicts should be resolved through peaceful means.
China has been asserting its sovereign rights over almost the entire energy-rich South China Sea with multiple nations including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan having overlapping claims. Though Indonesia is not a direct claimant in the South China Sea dispute, Jakarta has begun to express serious concerns over the presence of Chinese military forces.
Japan, traditionally a key partner of Indonesia, had recently fallen out of favour with Jakarta when it lost out key infrastructure projects to China. However, the situation is likely to change after Abe's latest visit. Abe has promised 74bn yen ($640m) as loan for irrigation and coastal construction projects in Indonesia.
On Monday, 16 January, Abe left for Vietnam on the last leg of his tour.