Strengthening Australia’s maritime cooperation with Indonesia would help both countries counter China’s militarisation of the South China Sea, a leading think tank report has urged.
The document – ‘Reinforcing Indonesia-Australia defence relations: The case for maritime recalibration’ – by the Lowy Institute’s Evan A Laksmana – argues stronger naval links should be a “strategic necessity” for defence planners in Canberra.
China’s aggressive claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea, is a major regional challenge facing both countries, the study says.
Other areas that could be tackled by closer maritime links include piracy, people smuggling, marine environment protection, illegal fishing as well as regional instability.
One of the Chinese artificial reefs within the Spratly group of islands in the South China Sea. (Getty)
A US Navy photo obtained by the gCaptain website showing a confrontation between the USS Decatur (left) and PRC Warship 170 in the South China Sea last week. (Supplied) (Supplied)
Despite a number of countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines claiming sovereignty, Beijing has built man-made islands and military bases in the South China Sea to exert its influence.
The disputed waterway has also seen tense confrontation between China and the US.
Last week a US Navy warship and a Chinese navy destroyer came within 40 metres of each other in the South China Sea when the American vessel conducted a “freedom of navigation” operation close to reefs claimed by Beijing.
But despite the common concern over China’s actions and maintaining freedom of navigation, Australia and Indonesia have divergent South China Sea strategies, the study says.
Indonesia is determined to ensure a central role for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) of which it is a member.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo onboard the Indonesian Navy ship KRI Imam Bonjol. Indonesia is aiming to modernise its naval forces. (AAP)
But Australia “sees China’s behaviour through the lens of its US alliance”, the report stresses.
So while Canberra and Jakarta want to see a “rules-based order” in the South China Sea they disagree over which rules to enforce and how to achieve that.
This is illustrated by Indonesia being less supportive than Australia over freedom of navigation operations through the waterway.
But despite these differences of approach towards the South China Sea and other issues, closer maritime links offer Australia and Indonesia the chance to build a more effective defence partnership in the Asia Pacific region, the study says.Indonesian military personnel salute the HMAS Adelaide when it visited Jakarta last year. (AAP)
It calls for closer maritime ties between the Australian Defence Force and the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI).
This should include more naval exercises. Australian support for the modernisation of the Indonesian navy fleet and education and training.
The report also suggests a defence partnership based on tackling joint maritime challenges would also stimulate regional stability.
“A stronger and more stable TNI–ADF partnership could also shape the broader Indo- Pacific security architecture … Together, Indonesia and Australia could realise their shared potential as a stabilising anchor of the Indo-Pacific.”
Source : 9news