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Indonesia, Vietnam discuss South China Sea security, EVs as Jokowi visits

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (L) and Vietnam's President Vo Van Thuong shake hands during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on January 12, 2024. (Photo by Nhac NGUYEN / AFP)

HANOI, Jan 12 — The leaders of Indonesia and Vietnam highlighted security in the South China Sea and investments in Indonesia by electric vehicle maker VinFast in joint statements after a meeting today as President Joko Widodo visited Hanoi.

The two South-east Asian countries are strengthening their ties with corporate investments, more trade and closer cooperation on boosting security in the contested South China Sea amid tensions with Beijing.

Vietnam’s President Vo Van Thuong stressed the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea in a statement after he met with Widodo, widely known as Jokowi.

The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on fisheries cooperation. The text is not public, but it may address Vietnamese fishermen’s encroachments in other countries’ waters, which is a regular source of tension in the region.

Ahead of Jokowi’s trip, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the country was ready to work with other South-east Asian nations to finalise a long-delayed code of conduct for the South China Sea, a strategic waterway for trade and energy.

A Vietnamese official confirmed the matter would be discussed in Hanoi during Jokowi’s visit.

A South-east Asian code of conduct would be seen as a blow to China.

Beijing and South-east Asian nations have been trying since 2002 to set up a framework to negotiate the code of conduct, but progress has been slow despite commitments by all parties to advance and expedite the process.

Indonesia and Vietnam agreed in 2022 to recognise the boundaries of their Exclusive Economic Zones in the South China Sea, a move that was seen as a challenge to Beijing, which claims almost the entire strategic trade route.

Indonesia had previously said it planned to export gas to Vietnam from gasfields in the South China Sea.

“We agreed to cooperate on energy transition,” Jokowi said in his statement alongside Thuong.

VinFast

Jokowi who will visit VinFast’s EV factory in northern Vietnam on Saturday, praised the company’s plans to invest US$1.2 billion in a plant and other operations over the longer term in Indonesia.

Thuong encouraged Indonesian firms to invest more in Vietnam, including in the banking sector.

The two nations also signed a memorandum of understanding on information technology and communication cooperation.

Bilateral trade between the nations rose 23% to US$14.1 billion last year and the goal is for that to soon reach US$15 billion, the Vietnamese president said.

Jokowi’s visit to Hanoi is part of a larger South-east Asian trip that also included a prior stop in the Philippines and an expected visit to Brunei this weekend before Indonesian elections next month.

He is expected to meet other Vietnamese leaders later today, but contrary to normal practice, Jokowi is not scheduled to meet Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, amid concerns about the elderly leader’s health.

Since 2022, Vietnam has pursued a strategy of improving ties with global powers and partners, and Thuong said he was confident formal relations could be boosted with Indonesia as well. 

Source: Malay Mail

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