RI cozies up to Russia, China

11 February 2016 Indonesia insisted that it was not abandoning its Western allies as it agreed on Wednesday to improve defense and intelligence cooperation with Russia, while also seeking legislative approval for the ratification of a defense agreement with China after eight years of delay.

The commitment between Indonesia and Russia, which also includes possible joint training and information sharing, was forged following a meeting between President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and visiting Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev.

Russia also took the opportunity to convince Indonesia to buy weaponry systems, including Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets, helicopters and submarines, alongside transfer of technology to help improve Indonesia’s defense industry. 

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said the reason Indonesia was looking at greater intelligence and defense cooperation with Russia was that “too much of our cooperation is with Western countries”.

“Russia is no less sophisticated than the US,” said Luhut, a member of Jokowi’s close-knit inner-circle. 

“We don’t cooperate enough with Russia. It makes sense to cooperate with them in intelligence-sharing.”

While Indonesia did not make any demands for specific intelligence priorities and weaponry system, the visit of the Russian delegation gives weight to Jokowi’s stated policy to modernize Indonesia’s primary weapons defense systems in order to help boost the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) capabilities as a regional maritime force. 

Indonesia and Russia have long had military ties. The Air Force, for example, has a squadron of 16 Russian-produced Sukhoi Su-27/30 heavy jet fighters.

The Defense Ministry earlier decided to procure Russian-made Sukhoi SU-35s to replace the retiring F-5 Tiger jet fighters after comparing five different types, including models from the US, Sweden and France.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu insisted that Indonesia was not spurning its Western allies. “Commitment to strengthen defense cooperation with Russia and the procurement plan is the way for Indonesia to show the world that it is a neutral country in terms of defense cooperation,” he said. 

“We have F-16s from the US. We have many war vessels from Europe too. We also engage in many other forms of defense cooperation with the US. We don’t favor any one country.” 

Earlier in the day, lawmakers agreed to deliberate a bill to ratify a defense agreement previously struck between the government of president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and its Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Nov. 27, 2007.

According to Ryamizard, the Indonesia-China defense agreement necessitates the establishment of a joint committee to oversee, direct and implement the agreement.

The agreement will also oblige all parties to offer protection and the proper distribution of intellectual rights, as well as exercising discretion with confidential information.

The plan involved, he said, information and personnel exchange for educational and research purposes, strengthened cooperation among industries from both countries, joint military training and “other cooperation initiatives in other sectors based on common interests”.

In spite of consensus among all party factions, legislators took issue with the latter point in the agreement, arguing that the vague wording used in the draft could be used to justify an act that might potentially jeopardize regional stability.

Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) lawmaker HM Gamari said that his faction essentially agreed to endorse the bill, but only under the condition that the government would not take part in any joint patrols with China in the South China Sea.

“The Defense Ministry should refrain from taking part in any joint patrols in the South China Sea, taking into account the dispute among countries in the Pacific Ocean,” Gamari said. “The PKS faction recommends this to prevent any misconceptions that Indonesia recognizes China’s claim to the region.”

The PKS politician’s recommendation was supported by Commission I deputy chairman Meutia Hafid of the Golkar Party, who suggested that it should be inserted as a footnote in legislators’ written approval of the bill.

In response, Ryamizard merely said that the government would take note of the suggestion, refusing to rule out the possibility of joint patrols. “That will be noted, but I myself have overseen a previous patrol, which was aimed at making headway in the situation. It is important to open up communications among disputing countries,” he said.