Indonesia and Vietnam discuss South China sea and energy issues as Indonesian president visits

Indonesia’s president visited Hanoi on Friday for talks with his Vietnamese counterpart on maritime security in the disputed South China Sea, bilateral cooperation and environmental issues.

The meeting was aimed at bolstering security and economic ties between Hanoi and Jakarta amid China’s growing influence in the region.

After meeting Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong issued a statement stressing the need for stability in the South China Sea. The two countries’ delegations also signed a document on closer cooperation between their fisheries and memorandums of understanding in the fields of information technology and communications.

Vietnam is one of several countries defending its territorial interest against China in the tense region. Indonesia and China enjoy generally positive ties, but Jakarta has expressed concern about what it sees as Beijing’s encroachment on its exclusive economic zone in the waters.

Trade between Indonesia and Vietnam increased by 23% to $14.1 billion last year and the target is for it to reach $15 billion, said the Vietnamese president.

“We have agreed to cooperate on energy transition and in digital economy for the prosperity of our people and the region,” said Widodo.

The two sides also signed an agreement on cooperation between their fishing industries, though the text of the agreement was not made public. Vietnam’s fishing industry is the second-biggest in the region after China’s.

Gregory B. Poling, who heads the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Vietnamese fishermen typically spend more time closer to the shore, which can be perceived as encroaching into another country’s territorial waters.

In 2019, Indonesia detained 12 Vietnamese fishermen from a boat it intercepted after a sea clash with Vietnam, saying they were fishing illegally in its waters.

Poling said a well-implemented agreement could be significant, following the December 2022 demarcation of the countries’ nautical boundaries or exclusive economic zones and Vietnam’s efforts to track its fishing vessels after being reprimanded by the European Union for failing to do enough to combat illegal fishing.

Both Vietnam and Indonesia have been pledged billions of dollars by the Group of Seven advanced economies to help transition away from dirty fossil fuel as a part of a Just Energy Transition Partnership. Vietnam is the regional leader in clean energy, obtaining about a tenth of its energy from the wind and the sun. Indonesia gets only about 1%.

Widodo will also visit VinFast’s electric vehicle factory in northern Vietnam on Saturday. He praised the multinational company’s plans to expand operations into Indonesia, where it seeks to build a $400 million EV factory.

Widodo, who is serving his second and final term in office ahead of elections in February, arrived in Hanoi from the Philippines and is expected to visit Brunei later this weekend as part of a larger trip across Southeast Asia.