November 1, 2016 12:10 am JST

Indonesian maritime minister eyes cooperation with Japan

TOKYO -- Indonesia hopes to work more closely with Japan on such maritime issues as security and resource development, the Southeast Asian nation's coordinating maritime affairs minister said here amid rising tensions with the Chinese over fishing in the South China Sea.

The "purpose of my visit is to execute cooperation such as gas and oil investment and [with the] coast guard," Luhut Pandjaitan told The Nikkei in an interview.

Pandjaitan cited the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea as an example. Although the Indonesian archipelago boasts an abundance of fishery resources, fishing in the area is done mainly by small-scale local operations. The country plans to build refrigerated warehouses that can hold thousands of tons of fish. Indonesia seeks Japanese cooperation in canning and processing, Pandjaitan said.

The minister also encouraged Japan to invest in oil and natural gas development. Japanese oil company Inpex holds several concessions in Indonesian territory, including near the Natuna Islands.

Pandjaitan also aims to partner with Japan on maritime security to crack down on illegal fishing. He requested further training of coast guard officials by the Japanese coast guard.

Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs will consider specific cooperation measures going forward. Jakarta is hoping for cabinet-level talks.

Indonesia has in recent years focused on maritime policy, including such areas as fisheries, oil development and security. With Chinese fishing boats operating around the Natuna Islands in waters Beijing claims as "traditional fishing grounds," Jakarta increasingly sees a need to defend its interests.

The "nine-dash line" encompassing Chinese claims in the South China Sea does not include the Natuna archipelago itself but does cover part of Indonesia's exclusive economic zone around the islands. Indonesia is reinforcing its military presence in the area, with the air force holding its largest-ever drill nearby in early October.

Yet Pandjaitan avoided speaking too strongly about the matter, likely in light of the strong economic ties between Jakarta and Beijing. "We don't feel we have" a dispute, he said. "Our cooperation with China is very beautiful."

But Indonesia is prioritizing Japanese technology for a planned railway between Jakarta and the city of Surabaya in East Java, Pandjaitan said. "This project is good for our economy," he said.

Although China beat Japan at the last minute on a high-speed-rail project linking Jakarta and Bandung, Pandjaitan indicated that Indonesia still considers Japan a key infrastructure partner. The government is trying to strike a balance now, he said, expressing a hope of beginning negotiations in earnest when he visits Japan again in November.

(Nikkei)

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