JAKARTA — China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi visited Jakarta Friday to meet with his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalalegawa. While the two foreign ministers agreed to expand bilateral ties, it was comments on the South China Sea that drew the most attention.
Reaffirming closer ties, they emphasized the importance of deepening trade and investment, agreeing to boost bilateral trade to $80 billion by 2015, and discussed cooperation in sectors of defense and security, including maritime and food security.
"We shared the assessment that China and Indonesian relations are in a period of rapid development," said Yang, recounting their discussion about of the next stage of the bilateral relationship. "Our two countries enjoy frequent high-level exchanges for fruitful economic and trade cooperation, blossoming defense and security cooperation, and people-to-people ties.”
Both ministers stressed the need for collaboration and diplomacy — bilaterally and within ASEAN — to ensure peace and stability in the region.
Doubts about ASEAN’s cohesiveness emerged after the regional grouping failed to produce a joint communiqué during their ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh last month. The group could not agree on a position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, where China and other ASEAN countries have overlapping maritime claims.
According to reports by Agence France-Presse, Indonesia's Natalegawa is supporting implementation of ASEAN's long-debated multilateral code of conduct, a proposed framework aimed at alleviating disputes over fishing, shipping rights and maritime oil and gas exploration.
“The very difficult issue of the South China Sea requires countries in the region, ASEAN and China to work closely,” Natalegawa told AFP. “Having met the Chinese foreign minister, I’m assured that diplomacy is still on track.”
China claims sovereignty over almost all of the resource-rich sea, which is home to vital shipping lanes, but the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims.
Despite territorial tensions — including China’s recent move to build the city of Sansha in a contested area — Yang said maintaining regional peace and stability was a responsibility shared by all countries in the region.
Because ASEAN members failed to approve a multilateral code of conduct last month, critics say China can now use its influence to dominate bilateral disputes with smaller neighbors.
The U.S. takes no position on the competing claims in the South China Sea but has pushed for a binding framework to avoid clashes or to resolve them peacefully.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.