A top Indonesian military official is calling for stronger military cooperation with Northeast Asian countries to help keep waterborne trade routes secure. He was speaking at a conference in Singapore called the Shangri-La Dialogue that is becoming an important annual gathering of diplomats and experts in Asian security issues. Chad Bouchard reports from Jakarta.
Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono has asked Asia's wealthiest nations to provide ships and technical assistance in patrolling one of the world's busiest and most vulnerable shipping lanes. The Malacca Strait runs between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, and carries 40 percent of the world's maritime trade.
Sudarsono was speaking at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference sponsored by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The United States, still the largest outside contributor to security in Southeast Asia, has offered to help patrol the Straits, but Malaysia and Indonesia have previously rejected foreign assistance.
Jakarta-based security analyst Chris Holm says Indonesia is looking east instead of west for help.
"Maybe [this could be viewed as] a signal being sent to the U.S. as well that Indonesia is independent and it can choose who it wants to help police the Straits because Indonesia has had quite a nationalistic way of looking at its territorial waters; it's been loathe to let outsiders, even the Singaporeans, have too much say in how it patrols," said Holm.
Defense minister Sudarsono said Indonesia's defense budget is less than one percent of its gross domestic product, or about $3.2 billion a year, and poverty relief was more important in the national budget than fleet expansion.
Security analyst Holm says Indonesia has been increasingly open to cooperation with China, a growing economic power.
"Certainly after the reform era in Indonesia, relationships have warmed quite a lot with China, so I think it's quite possible that this is just part of an overall context of keeping everyone in the region interested and involved in security affairs," added Holm.
Also during the weekend conference, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for Indonesia to continue military reforms as part of its democratization.
The Indonesian defense minister said he expects a stalled defense treaty with Singapore to be resolved within a week.
Observers also noted a more open and friendly atmosphere between the senior U.S. and Chinese officials present, while senior ministers from Sri Lanka and the Philippines each appealed for attention to their security concerns.
Sri Lanka's foreign minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, called for an international effort to destroy the worldwide activities of Tamil Tiger militants, saying the group's supply chain and funding must be severed to end 24 years of separatist violence on the island-nation.
The Philippine defense minister announced that top leaders of an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group had been killed as a result of a military campaign on the island of Jolo.