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Jokowi distances himself from South China Sea comments

TOKYO — Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo tried to distance himself from comments he had made regarding Beijing and its South China Sea claims, saying yesterday that Jakarta would not side with any country in the ongoing dispute. “I need to declare that Indonesia is not siding with any party involved in the dispute,” Mr Widodo told a press conference held during his official visit to Japan.

Jokowi distances himself from South China Sea comments

Mr Joko Widodo. Photo: Reuters

TOKYO — Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo tried to distance himself from comments he had made regarding Beijing and its South China Sea claims, saying yesterday that Jakarta would not side with any country in the ongoing dispute. “I need to declare that Indonesia is not siding with any party involved in the dispute,” Mr Widodo told a press conference held during his official visit to Japan.

In an interview with a Japanese newspaper on Sunday, the President said one of Beijing’s main claims to the majority of the South China Sea had no legal basis in international law, but Jakarta wanted to remain an “honest broker” in one of Asia’s most thorny territorial disputes.

Mr Widodo said he was referring only to the nine-dash line that Beijing had marked and not to the South China Sea in general, dismissing any indication that he was opposing Beijing.

The President also said Indonesia, as part of the Association of South-east Asian Nations, remains committed to the proposed Code of Conduct being negotiated with Beijing that is aimed at de-escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

“If it is necessary, we are also ready to be a good mediator, that is what I was trying to say,” Mr Widodo said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi explained that Mr Widodo’s statement about Beijing’s legal claims on territories within the nine-dash line was merely an expression of his desire to finally end the South China Sea dispute. “As the President has said, Indonesia has no overlapping claim whatsoever with China, please note that,” Mr Retno said.

Mr Widodo heads to China today after visiting Japan on his first trip outside South-east Asia since becoming President.

China claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea via a vague nine-dash line boundary which has been inserted in official maps since the end of World War II.

There are overlapping claims by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam to parts of the sea, where about US$5 trillion (S$6.87 trillion) of shipborne trade passes every year.

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