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The Truth About Australia-Indonesia South China Sea Patrols

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A deeper look behind President Jokowi’s suggestion that he may discuss the proposal during his state visit to Australia.
On Friday, reports surfaced that Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo may raise the issue of joint patrols in the South China Sea with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during his first state visit to the country over the weekend. Though both sides attach significance to the South China Sea issue and talk of such arrangements is not new to the bilateral relationship, one should also be careful when assessing what this could and could not mean.
First, it is no doubt that Jokowi and Turnbull will discuss the South China Sea issue amidst other regional security concerns as officials from both sides have done previously. Both Indonesia and Australia are significant and highly-capable actors in the Indo-Pacific. Though they are non-claimants in the South China Sea disputes – admittedly a more contested designation for Indonesia –  they do have equities in the broader issues at stake in the South China Sea including China’s maritime assertiveness and freedom of navigation (See: “ Indonesia’s South China Sea Policy: A Delicate Equilibrium ”). More broadly, maritime security is also one major area of cooperation between the two countries.
Second, talk of joint patrols isn’t exactly new in the context of the Australia-Indonesia relationship. Indeed, both countries already are engaged in combined patrols. The Australian Defense Force and Indonesian Armed Forces have been conducting coordinated maritime security patrols (AUSINDO CORPAT) since April 2010, and last March, the Australian Border Force (ABF) conducted a maritime security patrol with the Indonesian Coast Guard (BAKAMLA) which has just begun to take off under Jokowi (See: “ Indonesia’s Maritime Ambition: Can Jokowi Realize It? “).
Talk of joint patrols in the South China Sea is also not new.

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