Japan and Indonesia on Sunday affirmed a deepening of economic and political ties during a visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is using a four-nation tour of Asia to underscore his government’s role in countering China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.
After meeting with Abe, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said the increase in Japanese investment in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, has been “very significant,” doubling to $4.5 billion in January-September of last year.
He said the meeting was “warm, open and productive,” and that the countries agreed that their defense and foreign ministers would meet in Indonesia this year under a new forum they established in 2015 to increase maritime cooperation.
Jokowi said there were agreements on development of the Patimban deep-sea port and the Masela gas field in Indonesia, and for preliminary discussions on a Jakarta-Surabaya rail line.
Abe said an Indonesian-Japanese joint venture company would develop Patimban. He also pledged “business opportunities” worth 74 billion yen ($646 million) for coastal development and irrigation in Indonesia.
Abe’s trip is largely aimed at taking a leadership role in promoting regional cooperation to counter Beijing at a time of increased tension between China and the U.S. and uncertainty about the policies of the incoming Donald Trump administration.
With the tour, Tokyo wants to send a message that its respect for a rules-based international system, in contrast to China’s more aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, where it has vast territorial claims, makes it the best partner for Southeast Asian countries.
Abe said he and Jokowi “exchanged views on the development of the regional situation, including the South China Sea issue that has been a concern for the entire international community that will directly affect the peace and stability of the region.”
“We reiterated the importance of enforcing the principle of the rule of law and peaceful settlement,” he said.
Abe’s swing through Asia has included two of America’s main allies in the region, Australia and the Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s hostility to the U.S. has raised doubts about his commitment to the U.S. alliance that Japan is a crucial part of.
Australia and Japan agreed to greater military cooperation, and in the Philippines, Abe pledged $8.7 billion in business opportunities and investment.
Jokowi said that in his meeting with Abe, he asked for Japan to open access for Indonesian agricultural goods, improve access for Indonesian nurses to work in Japan, commence a review of the Indonesia-Japan economic partnership agreement this year, and grant national carrier Garuda rights for a Jakarta-Tokyo-Los Angeles route.
After Indonesia, Abe will visit Vietnam, which the U.S. has cultivated stronger ties with as a part of President Barack Obama’s pivot to Asia policy.
Trump, however, has said he will scrap U.S. involvement in the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which was a signature part of Obama’s policy.