US defence chief Austin to visit Prabowo, looks to strengthen ties with Indonesia

The Indo-Pacific region has become increasingly contested in recent years, as the US looks to match China’s grip and military presence through regional and global partnerships with other countries in the region.

Dio Suhenda

Dio Suhenda

The Jakarta Post


Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto (left) salutes the honor guard alongside United States Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin during the former's visit to the Pentagon in Virginia, the United States, on Oct. 20.(Courtesy of US Department of Defense/-)

November 22, 2022

JAKARTA – Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto is set to welcome his American counterpart Lloyd J. Austin this week, as the two countries’ top defense officials are expected to push for a stronger defense partnership amid increasing tensions in the Indo-Pacific region.

“[Defense] Secretary Austin’s visit will drive progress on key bilateral initiatives to support interoperability, capability development and the professionalization and modernization of the Indonesian Military [TNI],” said a statement issued by the United States embassy in Jakarta last week.

Austin is also expected to meet with other senior government officials and military leaders during his visit to Jakarta.

Indonesian Defense Ministry spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak told The Jakarta Post on Sunday that Austin was scheduled to meet with Prabowo on Monday at the ministry’s office in Central Jakarta.

The Indo-Pacific region has become increasingly contested in recent years, as the US looks to match China’s grip and military presence – which it sees as a global security and stability threat – through regional and global partnerships with other countries in the region.

To this end, Austin’s visit to Indonesia comes as part of a string of bilateral visits geared to highlight “the important strides” the US is taking “to bring greater stability, transparency and openness to the Indo-Pacific region,” the US Embassy said.

Austin was in Nova Scotia, Canada on Sunday to deliver a remark at the 2022 Halifax International Security Forum, where he spoke about the US’ efforts to build a more resilient security architecture with allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific and Europe.

On the sidelines of the forum, he met with his Canadian counterpart Anita Anand and discussed Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy as well as cooperation between the countries to counter Russian aggression in Ukraine, according to a statement issued by the Pentagon on Sunday.

Austin is expected to conclude his tour with a visit to Cambodia to attend the upcoming ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM)-Plus. Aside from the ten ASEAN member states, eight dialogue partners – including the US, Australia, China and India – are expected to be present during the meeting.

Following the ASEAN Summit earlier this month, Indonesia has been officially named as next year’s ASEAN chair.

Austin’s meeting with Prabowo later this week will be their second meeting in just over a month. The last time they met was on Oct. 21 at the Pentagon defense complex in Virginia.

“In line with our strategic interest of developing an Indo-Pacific region that is more connected, prosperous, safe, strong, free and open, I believe it will require the cooperation and participation of Indo-Pacific nations to achieve these goals,” Prabowo said at the time.

In November last year, the two defense chiefs met in Bahrain on the sidelines of a regional security summit known as the Manama Dialogue. During the meeting, Austin reiterated the US’ support for “Indonesian leadership in the region” as well as “the importance of ASEAN” in upholding a “free and open” Indo-Pacific.

While Prabowo was previously barred from entering the US over allegations of human rights violations in relation to Indonesia’s occupation of Timor Leste, Austin’s predecessor Mark Esper extended an olive branch by inviting Prabowo to the country for defense talks in 2020 – an invitation that the retired general accepted.

Since then, the US-Indonesia defense cooperation has seen significant progress, including the recent expansion of the Super Garuda Shield joint military exercise – the largest exercise of its type between the two nations.

Indonesia is also in talks to procure a number of F-15EX fighter jets from the US and has been sending Indonesian cadets to study on scholarships at the US Military Academy at West Point, the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and the US Air Force Academy in Colorado.

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