February 14, 2023
JAKARTA – Australia should be clear and open about its activities in AUKUS, its defense alliance with the United States and the United Kingdom, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi told her counterpart Penny Wong in Canberra on Thursday.
Accompanied by Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto and his Australian counterpart Richard Marles, the ministers met at the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting to address increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific, a point of concern Retno said must be dealt with using cooperation instead of secrecy.
“Indonesia reiterated the importance of AUKUS transparency and the commitment [to stop] nuclear proliferation, as well as adherence to the safeguards of the [Nuclear Proliferation Treaty] and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency],” Retno said in a statement on Thursday.
“If not managed well, the rivalry [between China and Western powers] could well escalate into an open conflict. Indonesia invites Australia to work together and be a positive force in upholding peace, stability and prosperity in the region,” the minister said from Canberra.
In recent years, Western nations and their allies have sought to counter China’s increasing international assertiveness by forming defense pacts such as AUKUS and other coalitions. Under AUKUS, Australia is to be supplied nuclear-powered submarines to expand its monitoring capabilities.
While Canberra reaffirmed its commitment to avoiding acquiring nuclear weapons on Sept. 23, 2022, some neighboring countries, including Indonesia, are unconvinced that its procurement of nuclear-powered submarines will comply with international rules, such as those enforced by the IAEA.
In a meeting in Washington, DC, on Dec. 5 of last year, visiting Australian Defense Minister Marles and his US host Lloyd Austin said they were determined to “counter destabilizing military activities by the People’s Republic of China”, ahead of an AUKUS meeting.
As chair of ASEAN this year, Indonesia has made implementing the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific one of its top priorities, in part to assert the bloc’s authority in the region. The document underpins regional efforts to promote inclusive engagement among Indo-Pacific countries.
Jakarta was seeking Canberra’s backing of the outlook, Retno said.
“It is hoped that tensions can simmer down through inclusive work,” she added.
Australian Foreign Minister Wong said her country was committed to following international rules and would support ASEAN’s central role in the region.
“Ministers agreed to work together to navigate a contested region, ensuring responsible management of strategic competition with ASEAN at the center,” she said during a joint press conference after the 2+2 meeting.
Prabowo, in his remarks, heaped praise on bilateral cooperation in defense and security, expressing his wish to “reaffirm and enhance this strategic partnership”.
“I think we would really like to become the anchor of peace and stability in our region,” he said at the joint conference.
The 2+2 meeting is a bilateral forum where the two countries coordinate on issues in defense and foreign policy.
“I really think it is one of the best platforms where we can build trust, collaboration and cooperation,” Retno said.
The minister is visiting Australia for the meeting and to make preparations for the next Indonesia-Australia annual leaders’ retreat.
She is also partaking in the Bali Process Ministerial Meeting in Adelaide, South Australia, a multilateral forum to discuss trafficking in persons, smuggling and other transnational crimes. (tjs)