ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
The US commitment to sell eight advanced attack helicopters to Indonesia reflects the superpower’s acknowledgment of Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as its most important partner in its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.
The deal to sell Boeing AH-64E Apache helicopters worth US$500 million to the Indonesian Military (TNI), which includes pilot training, radars and maintenance, was disclosed after a bilateral meeting between Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Defense Ministry headquarters on Monday.
In spite of the TNI’s human rights record in Papua and a recent raid on a civilian prison by members of the Army’s Special Forces (Kopassus) in Yogyakarta, Hagel said
Washington was determined to help Jakarta build its military capability.
“A strong Indonesia is good for the region,” Hagel said. “I welcome the progress Indonesia has made in improving transparency and the protection of human rights.”
Hagel had earlier been briefed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Moeldoko on the Cebongan Penitentiary raid in Yogyakarta in March, Purnomo said. “Since I was able to get the current status [of the case] and was able to express the point of view of the US on this, and because it has been before the courts [...] that’s all I can say about it for now,” Hagel said when asked about the incident.
The US has been seeking to bolster ties with Southeast Asian nations as part of the US “pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific region amid concerns about China’s growing assertiveness.
Hagel said that the US would stay on its course in Asia-Pacific despite crises in other parts of the world.
“[US] President Barrack Obama a couple of years ago put forward the rebalancing of America’s relationship priorities in the world, it is focused very much on Asia
Pacific, an area which is particularly important to the future of the US,” Hagel said.
He said that the rebalancing did not concern only security issues.
“This rebalance is not just about security, it’s not just about enhancing military relationships, although that’s important, but it’s also focused on our diplomatic relationships, our economic, trade, commercial, cultural and educational relationships.”
Jakarta was Hagel’s second stop on his week-long Southeast Asian tour after Kuala Lumpur. He is expected to attend the Asean Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus in
Brunei Darussalam from Aug. 27 to 29, after which he will travel to the Philippines.
Hagel also paid a courtesy visit to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono whom he applauded for his impressive leadership in the region and in many international forums.
The President told Hagel about Jakarta’s concerns over the situation in Egypt and Syria. Yudhoyono, however, did not discuss Washington’s plans to launch military action against Syria, presidential spokesman for foreign affairs Teuku Faizasyah said.
Commenting on the US rebalancing policy, Faizasyah said that Indonesia would always be open to any kind of diplomatic engagement with the objective of boosting prosperity in the region.
“We regard US policy in the Asia -Pacific region [as logical] because it shares common interests with us, not to mention its historical role in World War II among other things. But if we focus on the economic context it is mutually beneficial, the rebalancing is not something to be afraid of,” he said.
Faizasyah brushed off suggestions that the US viewed its presence in Southeast Asia as a counter to China’s assertiveness in the region. “We are not adopting the so-called ‘suspicious approach’. But we must see that there is no single country dominating the region, thus every nation has the right to play its role in establishing a stable and economically developed region. In this sense no nation will want to sacrifice stability or rule out such benefits,” he said.
Hagel said the US had allocated $90 million for foreign military financing and international military education and training programs in Southeast Asia, an increase of more than 50 percent compared to four years ago.
He also said that he supported ASEAN’s efforts to start formal negotiations on a binding code of conduct for the South China Sea.
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