Jakarta – The United Kingdom has reiterated its commitment to continue defense cooperation with Indonesia, particularly in the maritime sector, UK Minister for Asia and the Pacific Heather Wheeler said on Wednesday.
Wheeler's comment came just days after Indonesia and China were involved in a tense standoff in Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Natuna Sea, a disputed territory with China that the Asian giant prefers to call the South China Sea.
Foreign countries can freely pass the EEZ but only Indonesia has the right to exploit resources in the zone, including fish stocks and minerals under the seafloor. The standoff started when late last month Chinese vessels, including a coast guard boat, entered the EEZ.
"[Our] position is that we believe everybody should stand by the laws of the sea. We expect people to use all the appropriate legal mechanism, and there shouldn't be any issues of people taking over land [through inappropriate steps], but [if there is] it should be dealt with through the legal mechanism," Wheeler said.
She also said the UK could offer help in training Indonesian fishermen to improve their language skills and make them more competitive against fishermen from other countries who often sail in bigger fishing boats.
The UK minister was in Indonesia to open the UK Mission for Asean in the British Embassy in Jakarta on Wednesday. During the ceremony, Wheeler said defense cooperation is one of the main focuses in the Indonesia-UK bilateral relations, with maritime being one of its most important sectors.
Wheeler said the UK always welcomes people from abroad to come and study. Since the UK already has so many Indonesian students, information and knowledge exchange can be done through collaborations – including in maritime study – between universities.
The fact that Indonesia and the UK are both made up of a group of islands is another reason why cooperation between the two countries in the maritime sector should be strengthened.
Wheeler said the UK already has several existing programs and agreements with Asean and its member countries.
Currently, it maintains defense cooperation with eight Asean countries – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – through its network of defense attaches and defense advisers.
Along with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, the UK is also the founding member of the Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA), Southeast Asia's only collective security arrangement.
Wheeler said aside from maritime issues, Indonesia and the UK also maintain intense conversations on counter-terrorism.