WASHINGTON, D.C.: Indonesia’s foreign minister called on Thursday (Friday in Manila) for a new treaty spanning across Asia to help build trust, warning of the potential for conflict in the fast-changing region if tensions fester.
On a visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said that a new treaty could help end “the all-too-familiar vicious cycle of tensions” in Asia and instead encourage confidence by bringing countries together in their goals.
Without directly mentioning a rising China or the US, Natalegawa said that the region did not want “the unchecked preponderance of a single state” or the uncertainty created by feuds among rival powers.
“Instead, peace and stability in the region ought to be brought about through the promotion of an outlook that speaks of common security, common prosperity and common stability,” he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Natalegawa said an “Indo-Pacific-Wide Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” would be along the model of the Asean bloc’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which bans the use of force in settling disputes in Southeast Asia.
The treaty, first signed in 1976, is credited with winding down Cold War-era divisions in the now rapidly growing Association of Southeast Asian Nations. China, India and the United States have since acceded to the treaty.
The Indonesian foreign minister defined the Indo-Pacific as stretching across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, saying that the region formed a key engine of world growth and was too often viewed in distinct sections.
Natalegawa was general in the details of his proposal, saying it was most important to offer new ideas.
He called for the region to be upfront about its frictions, saying that nations should acknowledge territorial disputes and not “attempt to create new realities on the ground or at sea.”
Several of China’s neighbors, including Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan, have accused Beijing of aggressive encroachment to exert territorial claims. In turn, Japan has refused to describe islets claimed by China as disputed.
Natalegawa warned that, the recent crisis over North Korea could mark “a significant leap” in tensions and hinted at fears that neighboring nations would eventually seek their own nuclear arsenals.
North Korea’s nuclear program “may actually be altering the security equation in the region. Proliferation pressures, not unlike for example those in the Indian subcontinent, may ensue,” he said.
Natalegawa later met with Secretary of State John Kerry, who said that Indonesia “plays a critical role in the balance of interests in that region.”
President Barack 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 US has notably boosted relations with Indonesia’s military after earlier concerns about the elite Kopassus unit’s human rights record.
Joseph Yun, the acting US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said that the United States and Indonesia should become more active together on international areas of concern including cybersecurity and climate change.
He said that, the United States was also eager to work with Indonesia on hotspots such as Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and North Korea.
“We really have to now look beyond what we have done—what we can do together in terms of global challenges,” Yun said.