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Indonesia, Japan agree to boost cooperation in South China Sea

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, left, speaks to the media as his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi listens to him during a joint press conference after their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan. 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

JAKARTA (Kyodo) -- Japan and Indonesia agreed Friday to strengthen cooperation in further developing a newly built fisheries facility on the southern edge of the South China Sea and in providing technical support to the Indonesian coast guard.

    The foreign ministers of the two countries reached the agreement in Jakarta amid heightened tension between Indonesia and China after Chinese vessels entered an Indonesian-claimed exclusive economic zone north of the Natuna Islands, a remote archipelago more than 1,000 kilometers north of the capital, Jakarta.

    "We agreed to strengthen economic cooperation, particularly investment in the outermost Indonesian islands, including Natuna," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a press conference after meeting with her Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi.

    The fisheries facility in the Natuna Islands, called the Natuna Integrated Marine and Fisheries Center, was launched late last year, and according to Retno, Indonesia and Japan agreed to strengthen cooperation in the second phase of its development, which begins next month.

    The envisioned economic cooperation also covers other outlying islands that are seen as having the good potential for harvesting tuna and other kinds of fish for export to Japan, which is the largest importer of Indonesian tuna.

    Regarding the recent standoff between Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels, and Indonesian naval vessels in what Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea, Motegi told the press conference that he shares common, serious concerns with Retno over "unilateral efforts to change the status quo by force."

    The North Natuna Sea overlaps slightly with China's "nine-dash" line that marks that country's expansive claims in the South China Sea, where it also has maritime disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.

    The Japanese foreign minister said he "reiterated that we are going to work very closely regarding the South China Sea." He added that Japan's cooperation in providing technical support to the Indonesian coast guard will begin this month.

    The two ministers also agreed to hold a "two-plus-two" meeting of foreign and defense ministers from the two countries sometime this year.

    Indonesia has protested to China that dozens of Chinese fishing boats, accompanied by Chinese coast guard vessels, engaged in illegal fishing after entering the Indonesian-claimed EEZ in the waters north of the Natuna Islands in late December.

    The Indonesian military has deployed six naval ships and six aircraft to step up patrols in the area.

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