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International relations

Japan and Indonesia to hold 2+2 talks as security concerns mount

Suga and Jokowi agree to ease COVID self-quarantine period for business trips

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga meets with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Oct. 20.   © Kyodo

JAKARTA -- Japan and Indonesia on Tuesday agreed to accelerate the restart of mutual business travel to help their pandemic-battered economies, while also resolving to step up cooperation on defense.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is visiting Indonesia for the first time since taking office in September, met with his counterpart President Joko Widodo and later told reporters that the two governments aim to ease the self-quarantine period to enable short business trips.

Japan currently imposes a 14-day self-quarantine period for visitors, including those from Indonesia, and vice versa.

Widodo explained that the two sides will have their foreign ministers negotiate the details and come up with a conclusion within a month.

Suga and Widodo also agreed to deepen security and defense ties. This would include holding a foreign and defense ministerial, or 2+2, meeting at an early date as well as the acceleration of talks on transfers of defense equipment and technology.

Indonesia is the only country in Southeast Asia to have 2+2 talks with Japan. At their last meeting in 2015, the two sides agreed to step up cooperation in enhancing security in the South China Sea, where China is increasing maritime activity.

In addition, Japan is to provide Indonesia a yen loan worth 50 billion yen ($470 million) to aid the archipelago nation's battle with COVID-19.

The leaders met in the presidential palace in Bogor, on the outskirts of Jakarta. The visit made Suga the first foreign leader of a major economy to come to Indonesia since the start of the pandemic. The new prime minister appears keen to show that Japan still has a significant role to play in the region, as China increases its presence both militarily and economically.

Suga's visit to Vietnam earlier in the week also yielded an agreement on travel reopenings, as well as a vow to cooperate on the "free and open Indo-Pacific" initiative. Hanoi seeks stronger economic and defense ties with Japan as a counterweight to Beijing.

While China was almost certainly a factor in the agreement between Tokyo and Jakarta to strengthen military and security cooperation as well, the Indonesian president was more muted on the issue, saying only that "the spirit of cooperation needs to be promoted in the context of Indo-Pacific cooperation." Widodo said he hopes "that the South China Sea can continue to be a sea of peace and stability."

China was the second-biggest source of foreign direct investment into Indonesia in the first half of this year, overtaking Japan, while Indonesia has a long-standing commitment to foreign policy neutrality. Hanoi, on the other hand, is a leading critical voice against Beijing's encroachments.

Suga's visit coincides with the one-year anniversary since Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is popularly known, was inaugurated for a second term in office. But the occasion has been marred by continued protests against the controversial omnibus law passed through parliament earlier in the month.

Around 5,000 protesters, including students and labor unions, gathered in central Jakarta again calling for the president to repeal the law.

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