Govt Seeks Help to Secure Malacca Straits

SINGAPORE ~ Indonesia’s defense minister has called on Japan, China and South Korea to help his cash-strapped nation secure the vital Malacca Straits, the busiest sea lane in the world.

Juwono Sudarsono asked the three nations, East Asia’s wealthiest economies, to provide technical assistance for the Straits, which handles 40 percent of global trade and half of all oil shipments worldwide.

“What we lack in Indonesia is effective capacity to deploy resources, equipment, ships,” he said at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a regional security conference at the weekend.

“We would like to appeal to China, Japan and South Korea to provide the technical assistance on an ASEAN-wide basis as well as on a bilateral basis to the littoral states,” he said.

ASEAN is the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Indonesia had a huge responsibility to secure the sea lanes in the Malacca Straits because of its size and strategic location but did not have the financial means to do it all alone, said Sudarsono.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore have implemented coordinated air patrols in the Straits but Jakarta faced limits on what it could do, he said.

“There is tremendous responsibility,” he said. “But I am facing tremendous problems.”

If Indonesia allocated more for its defense needs, it would mean less funding for the country’s social and economic programs like building more schools and hospitals, said Sudarsono.

Indonesia’s defense budget is less than one percent of the country’s annual gross domestic product of US$400 billion, which translates into $3.2 billion a year.

In comparison, Singapore, which has one of Asia’s most modern armed forces, will increase its defense budget by 5.3 percent this year to an estimated $6.87 billion, according to the national budget.

“So the contrast is very stark,” Sudarsono said, adding that was why the vast archipelago must work with its neighbors.

The prosperity of East Asia and Southeast Asia is heavily dependent on safety in the Malacca Straits, since the passageway accounts for 40 percent of global seaborne trade.

Half of the world’s oil shipments also pass through the 960-kilometre Straits, the busiest seaway in the world. It links the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and also passes Malaysia and Singapore.

“It’s very important for us, it’s very important for countries in the region and very important for the global economy,” said Sudarsono.

He said the United States was still the dominant provider of security in the Asia-Pacific region but Japan and China, because of their economic might, would also want to be involved.

That would come “by enhancing their naval capabilities within Northeast Asia and across Southeast Asia because of the sea lines of communication and the links with energy security to the Gulf area,” said Sudarsono.

Singapore Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean said any moves by Japan and China to extend their naval reach in the Malacca Straits, through which more than 70 percent of their oil imports passes, must be in line with international law.

“Japan and China are extending and strengthening their maritime reach, to have a greater direct ability to influence the security of the sea routes through which their energy supplies pass,” said Teo.

“While this is to be expected, countries in the region also expect that this should be done in a way which is constructive, and which is consistent with international law.”

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