The United States has expressed full support for Indonesia to become a peace mediator in the region, with both countries pressing for the creation of a code of conduct to assure a peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea.
In a joint press conference after meeting with Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa on Monday, visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underscored the importance of Indonesia in unifying members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and helping to maintain stability in the region.
Clinton said a strategic alliance with Indonesia is the foundation for US engagement in Asia and the Pacific, as China continues to raise its influence in the region.
She praised Marty and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for their personal efforts to get all Asean members to form a common stance in handling territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
“That show of unity is very important for us and the US endorses the six-point principles of the Asean,” she said. “No party should take any steps that would increase tension.
“I will be discussing this [the South China Sea issue] in Beijing and hopefully we will make progress before the East Asia Summit.” Clinton is scheduled to fly from Jakarta to Beijing after meeting with Yudhoyono this morning.
She urged Asean and China to agree on a code of conduct for resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
The United States, she said, has a national interest in maintaining stability and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which is home to islands claimed by China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
She called on the parties not to increase tension through “coercive” or “intimidating” steps to advance their claims.
For his part, Marty reiterated the crucial unity of Asean to handle the region’s problems.
“Asean is not only right but it’s a smart thing to do,” he said. “It is a win-win relationship.”
Marty, added that China Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told him in their meeting two weeks ago that there was progress in a discussion between Asean and China to resolve the South China Sea problems.
Meanwhile, Clinton also voiced US support for Indonesia’s territorial integrity, including Papua and West Papua.
“Of course we deplore violence in Papua and when it does occur, there should be a full and transparent investigation and that the important lessons are learned,” she said.
Marty said that Indonesia and the United States have discussed the Papuan issue candidly and openly.
Clinton also announced that the US has pledged a five-year grant of $83 million to support primary education in Indonesia and develop the potential for Indonesia’s strong economic growth
“We believe that education remains the cornerstone in economic growth and Indonesia’s advancement,” Clinton said.
Clinton added that the US would also provide another US $20 million to provide training for Indonesian students in the United States. The move to provide grant support for education in Indonesia is part of the US strategy in Indonesia and the region to promote economic growth.
“We want to do even more to enhance job and economic growth,” Clinton said during her first visit to Jakarta since 2009.
The US State Department said in a statement that since Clinton visited Indonesia in 2009, US-Indonesia relations have never been stronger.
“President Obama’s and President Yudhoyono’s commitment to elevate bilateral relations by intensifying consultations and developing habits of cooperation laid the foundation for a strategically vital partnership between the world’s second and third largest democracies,” it said.
Since 2009, US exports of goods to Indonesia have increased from $5.1 billion to $7.4 billion in 2011, and imports of goods have increased from $12.9 billion to $19.1 billion. US foreign direct investment in Indonesia expanded to $1.5 billion in 2011, making the United States the third largest contributor.
The United States Agency for International Development’s Credit Authority loan guarantees helped spur employment by financing about $20 million in loans and increasing access to financial services for over 26,000 Indonesians, the US agency said.
The US said it is committed to supporting Indonesia as host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation next year, deepening its cooperation within APEC, and building on the strong momentum from the US’s time as host last year.
Clinton also said that defense trade is an increasingly important component of the bilateral relationship. The US is granting 30 F-16 jet fighters to Indonesia, with Indonesia funding their refurbishment.