Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have agreed to conduct coordinated patrols in piracy-prone areas in the South China Sea and to set up crisis centres to respond to maritime emergencies, Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi said on Thursday.
The decision was made at a meeting of civil and military officials of the three countries hosted by Indonesia in Yogyakarta. The nations are all locked in disputes with China in the South China Sea and the move could anger Beijing.
President Joko Widodo told the media after a courtesy call by the Malaysian and Philippine foreign ministers and armed forces representatives that he had asked the delegates to discuss how patrols will be carried out, according to The Straits Times.
Widodo also asked the delegates to discuss the course of action to be taken when responding to incidents at sea and a common operating procedure between the militaries of the three countries.
“I have encouraged the military commanders to make clear standard operating procedures, so we can carry out our course of action together,” he said.
Marsudi said a dedicated hotline will be set up to facilitate faster exchange of information in times of crises at sea.
“We have agreed to set up a national focal point among the three countries to facilitate sharing of information and intelligence in a prompt way, and to coordinate in any emergency situation. This way, we can respond faster,” she said.
These initiatives will be adapted from the “best practices” of the Malacca Straits Patrol, which was established in 2006 by the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, she said.
The trilateral meeting was held after recent kidnappings in waters off southern Philippines and north of Borneo, where Indonesia shares a border with Malaysia.
“The meeting is an Indonesian initiative against the background of the increasing security challenges alarming in the waters between the three countries,” said an Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman.
“These challenges include the rise of armed piracy, transnational crime and terrorism in the region...These challenges are seen as threatening the safety of the citizens and affecting trade and economic activities that cause harm to the welfare of the region.”
The ministry said more than 100,000 vessels had sailed through territorial waters off the Sulu Archipelago in southern Philippines in 2015, carrying 55 million tonnes of cargo and more than 18 million passengers.
In the past five weeks, 14 Indonesian and four Malaysian seamen were abducted by gunmen believed to have ties with the Abu Sayyaf terror group. Ten Indonesians held at the end of March were released on May 1.