PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia: The leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia on Friday pledged renewed efforts to resolve stubborn disputes over maritime borders that have long nagged at one of Southeast Asia’s most important bilateral relationships.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and visiting Indonesian President Joko Widodo revealed the plans in a joint press briefing after talks earlier in the day.
“We are committed to establishing an additional mechanism to resolve the outstanding [territorial]issues,” Najib said at the briefing in Putrajaya, just outside the capital Kuala Lumpur.
He said the effort was necessary because years of negotiations had seen “no significant advancement.”
The tension has centered on competing claims to potentially energy-rich seabeds in the Celebes Sea off the eastern coast of the vast island of Borneo, which the two nations share along with tiny Brunei.
But they also have disputed maritime borders in other spots, and Indonesia has lately sought to crack down on illegal fishing in its waters, using explosives to destroy and sink a number of foreign vessels caught in the act, including from Malaysia.
Widodo said maritime disputes had “lingered for too long.”
Widodo’s two-day stay is his first official bilateral trip abroad since taking office late last year and the choice of Malaysia appeared to underline the mutually-held importance of steady relations between two countries that sprawl across vital Southeast Asian sea lanes.
But another frequent bone of contention — poor treatment of the hundreds of thousands of Indonesian maids working in Malaysia — was highlighted just before Widodo arrived.
Indonesia’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it had formally protested this week over an advertisement by a Malaysian distributor of automatic vacuum cleaners that said users of the product can “Fire your Indonesian maid now!”
Widodo will visit a factory run by Malaysian national car manufacturer Proton later on Friday, after Najib last year revived a decades-old proposal for a jointly produced “Asean car”, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Widodo has expressed interest in the idea, which would seek to capitalize on a booming regional car market as incomes rise.
The proposal is considered to be very preliminary and it remains unclear whether it would gain traction.