When Japan signed a deal with Indonesia in March enabling it to export defense equipment to the Southeast Asian country, some media outlets highlighted the supposed shared interests between Japan and Indonesia in countering China. According to the Associated Press, for example, the agreement would allow the two countries to “strengthen their military ties in the face of China’s increasingly assertive activity in the region.” But a closer look reveals that Tokyo and Jakarta have very different reasons for signing the agreement.
While Japanese officials stressed the need to deter China and prevent it from making unilateral changes to the status quo in maritime hotspots, the press release from the Indonesian Defense Ministry did not mention China or even the South China Sea. Instead, it focused on the deal’s significance for defense technological and industrial cooperation, capacity building, and education and training. These focus areas reflect Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto’s multibillion-dollar efforts to modernize Indonesia’s military.
On its face, the deal, signed during a visit to Tokyo by the Indonesian foreign and defense ministers for “2+2” talks with their Japanese counterparts, is certainly noteworthy. It could reportedly lead to the transfer of eight Japanese Mogami-class multimission frigates to the Indonesian navy, a deal worth up to $3.6 billion. Under a provisional plan, Japan would deliver four of the 3,900-ton frigates beginning in late 2023 or early 2024, with the other four slated to be built at the Indonesian state-run firm PT PAL’s shipyard in the port city of Surabaya.