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Indonesia, Vietnam mend ties after talks to settle South China Sea disputes

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (right) and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong brief journalists after their meeting at the presidential palace in Jakarta on Aug 23, 2017.PHOTO: AFP



JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Amid two recent maritime stand-offs in the waters around the Natuna Islands in South China Sea, Indonesia and Vietnam mended ties after President Joko Widodo and Communist Party of Vietnam secretary-general Nguyen Phu Trong held talks in Jakarta on Wednesday (Aug 23).

The meeting produced key deals in a number of fields, ranging from education, energy, village development, law and maritime and fisheries.

The speedy completion of the limits of exclusive economic zones (EEZ) between the two countries to prevent future maritime stand-offs and stability in the South China Sea was a focal point of the high-profile discussions.

In a joint press statement at Merdeka Palace after the meeting, Mr Joko said Vietnam had also agreed to work with Indonesia to curb rampant illegal fishing to achieve a sustainable fishery.

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Mr Joko said: "In the maritime and fishery sector, Indonesia and Vietnam agreed to speed up negotiations on the limits of the EEZs between the two countries. Vietnam also supports Indonesia's cause to achieve a sustainable fishery by jointly curbing illegal fishing."

As for the situation in the South China Sea, Mr Joko said the two leaders agreed to make Asean the engine of peace and stability in the region.

Unlike Vietnam, Indonesia is not a claimant in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. However, Indonesia has been involved in several maritime stand-offs in the waters off the Natuna Islands with Vietnam because the two countries have overlapping claims in the area.

Data from the Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry shows that out of a total of 75 vessels arrested for illegal fishing this year, 63 were from Vietnam.

In a move to ease the tensions, Mr Joko appointed the Maritime Security Board (Bakamla) - Indonesia's coast guard - to sign the maritime sector agreement.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said: "The letter of intent about the coast guard is expected to build trust between the two counterparts. Better communication is important so that any incidents in the future could be handled swiftly by them."

Ms Retno said Indonesia and Vietnam had overlapping claims over their respective EEZs near Natuna waters.

She said: "It is important to solve this issue in order to avoid incidents in their EEZs with regard to vessels. If the limits are agreed then it will be easier to implement law."

She added that the House of Representatives would ratify the EEZ borders in the form of law after the two countries reached final agreements.

Ms Retno said when the ratification by Indonesia and Vietnam was done, it would be sent to the United Nations as a reference document to solve any future problems in the EEZ.

After meeting Mr Joko, Mr Trong gave a keynote speech and fielded questions at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta. He emphasised that consultation and consensus would remain an important and distinctive feature of Asean's decision-making process.

Said Mr Trong: "We need to continue the consultations to achieve a consensus. Without a consensus, it is impossible to have solidarity and unity within Asean."

Although Asean has had some difficulty achieving a consensus on a spate of issues, Mr Trong said consensus-building was an important part of achieving solidarity.

Mr Trong touched on the "spectacular flexibility" of the consultation and consensus principles, and singled them out as the way of the future for Asean.

He said: "For countries outside South-east Asia, especially major powers, we want to share in the understanding that Asean centrality is in line with common interests


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