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US, Indonesia agree to enhance military, maritime security ties

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper delivers a speech during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)
October 26, 2020

The United States and Indonesia have agreed to tighten defense and maritime security cooperation between the two countries after a meeting between US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto in Washington, DC, on Friday. Esper and Prabowo discussed regional security, bilateral defense priorities and defense acquisitions, the US Department of Defense said in a statement issued on Oct. 16. “Both leaders shared their desire to enhance bilateral military-to-military activities and work together on maritime security,” the statement said.

“Esper communicated the importance of upholding human rights, the rule of law and professionalization as the two countries expand their engagement while Prabowo expressed the importance of military engagement at all levels.”

The US is believed to have put Prabowo on a blacklist due to alleged human rights violations in East Timor and during the last days of the rule of then-president Soeharto in 1997-1998. Human rights abuses have also led to the suspension of formal cooperation with the Indonesian Military (TNI) and especially the Army’s Special Forces Command (Kopassus). The ban on Kopassus was lifted in 2010.

There has yet to be an official announcement on any arms deal with the Pentagon, although Indonesia has expressed an interest in several US-made weapons systems, such as CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor hybrid aircraft or the F-16 Fighting Falcon light jet fighters.

There is also interest among Indonesian defense establishments in F-15 Eagle heavy jet fighters and even the stealthy F-35 Lightning II jet fighter.

The only clear collaboration to come out of Friday’s meeting was when Esper and Prabowo signed a memorandum of intent (MOI) to advance the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency’s efforts to restart work in Indonesia to recover the remains of US personnel lost in Indonesia during World War II, according to the statement.

“Both leaders expressed sympathies to those affected by COVID-19 in the United States and Indonesia,” it added.

There has been no official announcement from the Indonesian Defense Ministry as of Sunday morning, nor has there been an official announcement on Prabowo’s next destinations. Prabowo will head to Vienna where he is scheduled to meet his Austrian counterpart Klaudia Tanner on Tuesday as shown by a leaked document.

While in Vienna, Prabowo is believed to have a discussion with Tanner on the possible sales of the European country’s Eurofighter Typhoon heavy jet fighters. The next stop will be Paris to meet French counterpart Florence Parly on Thursday as announced by the French Defense Ministry’s Twitter account @Armees_Gouv on Friday.

The Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and Indonesian representatives in France have been reluctant to confirm the visit. Based on a 2017 letter of intent (LOI) on defense, the bilateral defense cooperation includes three areas of cooperation on operational, training and capability, the French Defense Ministry said in the tweet.

Prabowo visited France in January, where he reportedly expressed interest in Gowind frigates, Rafale heavy jet fighters and Scorpene submarines, as reported by French newspaper La Tribune. Other countries Prabowo could also visit include Turkey, although an official at the Indonesian Embassy in Ankara said there had been no confirmation at the time of publishing.


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