Indonesia frets about new regional arms race

Indonesia frets about new regional arms race

Australian nuclear sub deal concerns foreign ministry, which asks all sides to behave responsibly

An Indonesian Air Force F-16 Jet Fighter flies over an Indonesian navy warship during an operation in waters off the Natuna islands in January 2020. (Antara Foto via Reuters)
An Indonesian Air Force F-16 Jet Fighter flies over an Indonesian navy warship during an operation in waters off the Natuna islands in January 2020. (Antara Foto via Reuters)

JAKARTA: Indonesia says it is worried about an arms race in the region after neighbouring Australia announced plans to acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new Indo-Pacific security alliance with the United States and Britain.

Known as AUKUS, the new alliance will help Australia get the technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines as part of agreement intended to respond to growing Chinese power. The submarines will not carry nuclear weapons.

In a statement on Friday, the Indonesian foreign ministry said it noted with caution Australia’s decision to acquire the submarines and said it was “deeply concerned over the continuing arms race and power projection in the region”.

The foreign ministry called on Australia to maintain its commitment to regional peace and stability, and reiterated its respect for international law.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told ABC radio that Indonesia’s defence and foreign ministers had been informed about the plans and he intended to speak with Indonesian President Joko Widodo soon.

There have been growing tensions in the disputed South China Sea, a strategic waterway with potential oil and gas riches, as countries try to push back against China’s maritime claims.

The Indonesian navy said on Thursday that it had increased patrols around its Natuna islands this week after it said both Chinese and US vessels were detected in the country’s waters.

The chairman of a fishing alliance in Natuna said Indonesian fishermen had spotted six Chinese ships, including warships, in Natuna waters this week and also regularly saw US vessels.

“We are worried that we will be caught in the middle of a war and that it will be unsafe for us to search for fish,” said Hendri, who uses one name.

China has not claimed the Natuna islands, but says it has nearby fishing rights within its self-proclaimed Nine-Dash Line that includes most of the South China Sea — a claim disputed by four Southeast Asian countries and not recognised internationally.

Malaysia on Saturday expressed concerns about the latest developments.

“It will provoke other powers to also act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea,” said a statement issued by the Office of the Prime Minister.

The statement did not mention China, but urged all parties to avoid any provocation and arms competition in the region.

“As a country within Asean, Malaysia holds the principle of maintaining Asean as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOFPAN),” it said.

Australia on Friday shrugged off Chinese anger over its decision to acquire US nuclear-powered submarines, while vowing to defend the rule of law in airspace and waters where Beijing has staked hotly contested claims.

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