by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) May 31, 2013
The United States will step up its military cooperation with Indonesia, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Singapore on Friday after meeting his Indonesian counterpart Purnomo Yusgiantoro.
"The two leaders reaffirmed the importance of deepening ties (and) reviewed progress made in recent years to increase exercises and training, as well as regular defense policy dialogues," Pentagon spokesman George Little said after the meeting.
The two defence ministers met on the sidelines of Singapore's annual security forum, the Shangri-La Dialogue, organised by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
Hagel recalled the importance of respect for human rights as a prerequisite for deeper military ties and "discussed American support for Indonesia's military modernisation, including through US foreign military sales," Little said.
US interest in boosting military ties with Indonesia is in line with President Barack Obama's "pivot", or strategic shift, to the Pacific region announced in January 2012 after a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, put a priority in his first term on building ties with the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, which has quickly embraced democracy since the 1990s.
While some experts see the warming ties as more rhetorical than substantive, the United States has notably boosted relations with Indonesia's military after earlier concerns about a special forces unit's human rights record.
US invites ASEAN defence chiefs to Hawaii meeting
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a security forum in Singapore that he will first meet his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a regional meeting in Brunei this year.
"This weekend, in my meetings here in Singapore, I am extending an invitation to ASEAN defence ministers to meet together next year in Hawaii," the Pentagon chief said.
"I believe this first-ever US-hosted meeting of ASEAN defence ministers will provide another opportunity for us to discuss a shared vision for a dynamic, peaceful and secure future for the region."
Four of ASEAN's 10 member states -- Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam -- as well as Taiwan are locked in territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Smaller ASEAN member countries like Laos and Cambodia have come under increasing Chinese economic and political influence, partly as a result of foreign aid from Beijing.
China has been aggressively enforcing its claims over almost the entire South China Sea, including waters and territories near the shores of smaller states, thousands of kilometres away from the Chinese coast.
China's influence was highlighted during Cambodia's leadership of ASEAN last year when the group's foreign ministers for the first time failed to issue a joint communique due to disagreements on how to deal with Beijing on the territorial issue.
Washington also risks being left out on the trade front, analysts have said.
China has a free-trade agreement with ASEAN and is a key player in efforts to widen the pact to include other regional players like Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The United States is spearheading rival talks to create a Trans-Pacific Partnership that includes Latin America.
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