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Military modernisation no arms race

Publication Date : 02-06-2014


Renewed tensions in the South China Sea and China’s increasing assertiveness in its maritime claims are changing the security landscape in Southeast Asia and boosting defense spending in the region.

“Renewed tensions in the South China Sea are causing jitters among some of us in the region," defense minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Sunday.

Purnomo’s speech was made available to The Jakarta Post on Sunday night by the Shangri-La Dialogue organizer, the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) London.

Though China’s recent assertive actions in the South China Sea may have triggered increased defense spending in some ASEAN countries, Indonesia, which lags behind its regional peers in defense capability, has boosted its military budget not because of China but to modernize its armed forces.

“Our defense budget has grown significantly, and we intend to continue to modernize our armed forces to achieve the necessary capabilities of our essential forces by the 2020s,” Purnomo said.

Indonesia, has recently made several weapons purchases, including tanks, submarines, fighter planes and helicopters.

Indonesia allocated US$7.3 billion, less than 1 per cent of its gross domestic product, for defense spending in 2014.

Purnomo said that the country's military modernisation should not raise concerns among its neighbours.

“Military modernisation is not an arms race, but it does need a positive, regional security framework marked by confidence-building measures, trust and transparency,” Purnomo said.

“We in Indonesia are quite mindful that our quest for more security does not need to lead to more insecurity for others. It is always better for strategic intentions to be rightly understood – not wrongly perceived – by others. Transparency and clarity will lessen misunderstanding and reduce mistrust."

While commenting on the regional security situation, which has been worsening recently, Purnomo said Indonesia was not happy with it.

“There are still roadblocks that stand in our way – geostrategic rivalries, mutual suspicions, lingering historical animosities, long-standing territorial and jurisdictional disputes,” Purnomo said.

Many regional powers – ranging from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – have slammed China for its recent unilateral provocative actions in the South China Sea, an area rich in oil and gas reserves and fisheries, and have asked all claimant countries to resolve the issue peacefully according to the rule of law at sea.

The present flare up of tensions began when China’s state-owned oil company China National Offshore Oil Corporation deployed an oil rig called HD-981 to Lot 143 in the South China Sea, an area claimed by both China and Vietnam.

According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an independent think tank, Lot 143 is located 120 nautical miles east of Vietnam’s Ly Son Island and 180 nautical miles from China’s Hainan Island.

Indonesia, a non-claimant country, is however concerned about China’s nine-dash line map, which touches its oil-rich Natuna Islands, an area within the archipelagic state’s economic exclusive zone (EEZ). Indonesia has increased its naval presence in the Natuna area.

Army chief Gen. Budiman recently said that Indonesia would deploy four Boeing Apache attack helicopters to the Natuna Islands.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abe praised Indonesia and the Philippines for recently resolving their own long-standing maritime dispute through peaceful negotiations. He called on China and other South China Sea claimants to follow suit.

“Take a look at Indonesia and the Philippines. They have peacefully reached an agreement of late on the delimitation of their overlapping EEZs. I welcome this as an excellent case in point that truly embodies the rule of law, “ Abe said.


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