Indonesian President Joko Widodo says China’s claims to the majority of the South China Sea have “no legal foundation in international law,” Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported.
The comments, in an interview published on Sunday ahead of visits to Japan and China this week, were the first time Widodo, who took office in October, has taken a position on the South China Sea dispute.
Indonesia, the largest country in Southeast Asia, has been a self-appointed broker in the myriad territorial disputes between its neighbors and China over the South China Sea.
“We need peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. It is important to have political and security stability to build up our economic growth,” Widodo was quoted as saying in an English version of the interview published on Monday.
“So we support the Code of Conduct (of the South China Sea) and also dialogue between China and Japan, China and ASEAN.”
Widodo also confirmed that he and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whom he meets later on Monday, would sign a defense cooperation agreement that would cover “how to work with” Japan’s military, and “search and rescue operations, humanitarian assistance, and cyber defense”, the Yomiuri reported.
Japan has already bolstered partnerships with the Philippines and Vietnam, the two countries most at odds with China over territorial rows in the South China Sea. Japan itself is embroiled in a bitter dispute with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, further to the north.
Widodo also said he hoped to discuss maritime cooperation with Japan’s coast guard “because Japan has good experience to manage its waters”, the newspaper reported.
Widodo will visit China immediately after his stop in Japan. Indonesia and China have a more developed military relationship and Jakarta has bought Chinese-made missiles and other military hardware.