Japan and Indonesia were set to agree Tuesday on a deal enabling exports of Japanese-made defense equipment to the Southeast Asian country, a government official said, as the two countries try to boost cooperation amid China’s rising assertiveness in regional waters.
The accord on the transfer of defense equipment and technology was set to be agreed in principle when foreign and defense ministers of Japan and Indonesia meet in Tokyo in the late afternoon.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he hopes the envisaged pact will be the “foundation of further security cooperation between the two countries,” when he met Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto ahead of the so-called two-plus-two meeting between the four ministers.
“To realize the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, I’d like to advance specific cooperation,” Suga also told the Indonesian ministers at his office.
In the talks, they also agreed to coordinate closely regarding the crisis in Myanmar where the military seized power in a coup on Feb. 1, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Suga “strongly condemned” the continued use of violence by Myanmar’s security forces against peaceful protestors, resulting in massive casualties and injuries, the ministry said.
The death toll from the military’s violent campaign to quell the unrest in Myanmar has reached at least 510, according to a rights group monitoring the situation.
On Saturday alone, at least 114 people were reportedly killed by security forces, making for the bloodiest day of protests since the military seized power in a coup on Feb.1.
Suga traveled to Vietnam and Indonesia last October for his first overseas trip since taking office. At the time, he agreed with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to step up negotiations toward the defense equipment agreement.
Japan has signed similar accords with Britain, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Philippines and the United States.
At the two-plus-two talks, the second of their kind between the two countries since 2015, the Indonesian ministers and Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi were likely to discuss ways to deal with China’s increasing maritime activities in the South and East China seas.
Japan is troubled by Chinese coast guard ships’ repeated intrusions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
China claims the uninhabited group of islets, calling them Diaoyu.
Indonesia, meanwhile, faces tensions in its exclusive economic zone in the waters north of the Natuna Islands with China, where Chinese fishing boats, accompanied by Chinese coast guard vessels, are claimed to be engaged in illegal fishing.
The EEZ overlaps with China’s self-proclaimed “nine-dash” line that marks its expansive claims in the South China Sea, where it has disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
During a separate meeting between Motegi and Marsudi on Monday, the two ministers agreed to cooperate closely in resolving the crisis in Myanmar, sharing “strong concerns” about the killings of peaceful protestors.
In the meeting, Motegi said Japan welcomes efforts by the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to improve the situation in Myanmar, including the leadership demonstrated by Indonesia, a major power in the 10-member bloc, according to the ministry.
Since the coup, Indonesia has sought a peaceful resolution to the crisis, calling for a special ASEAN summit meeting, including Myanmar, even as the bloc upholds the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other ASEAN member nations.
Japan, meanwhile, has been looking to play a “unique role” in efforts to reinstate Myanmar’s democratic political system, including applying pressure on the Myanmar military with which Tokyo maintains connections.
The ministers also agreed to cooperate in enhancing connectivity in the region, with Motegi expressing the possibility of Japan extending ¥70 billion ($638 million) in low-interest loans for the development of Patimban Port, a new international seaport east of Jakarta, according to the ministry.
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