Australia is considering joint military patrols with Indonesia in the contested waters of the South China Sea amid growing concerns in the west that a Chinese diplomatic offensive in Southeast Asia is upending the region’s balance of power. Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, confirmed that Canberra was exploring options with Jakarta aimed at increasing maritime co-operation, including co-ordinated activities in the SouthChina Sea and the Sulu Sea.China has laid claim to almost the entire South China Sea, a vital trade route and a lucrative fisheries area. This has led to tensions with Asian neighbours and Washington, which has vowed to uphold the rule of law and freedom of navigation.
The US has called on Australia, a strategic ally, to take a more assertive stance towards China’s claims. But so far Australia, which counts China as its biggest trading partner with A$150bn (US$115bn) worth of two-way trade in 2015, has taken a cautious approach for fear of escalating tensions.
Indonesia’s defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu raised the prospect of joint patrols during an annual meeting last week with Ms Bishop and Marise Payne, Australia’s defence minister.
It comes as Mr Widodo prepares to address Australia’s parliament next week on his first state visit to the country.
The discussions on joint patrols come at a testing time, amid fears in the west that China is using its growing economic power to dislodge Asian countries from Washington’s orbit, altering the balance of power in the region established after the second world war.
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