Jakarta. China will likely seek to continue its dominance in Asia at this week’s Asian-African Conference in Jakarta despite, Indonesia’s attempt to seek “a new military balance” in the region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to arrive in Jakarta on Tuesday for the summit following a state visit to Pakistan.
Observers say Xi’s attendance is meant to show the Chinese government’s intentions to strengthen and expand its influence in the two continents as demand for Chinese products from Western countries dwindles.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also seeking a similar move, using the conference to make further contributions to development in Asia and Africa.
The Indonesian Foreign Ministry on Monday confirmed that Xi would hold bilateral talks with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo on the sidelines of the event.
Joko met with both Xi and Abe during a week-long tour last month that began in Tokyo and concluded in China’s Hainan province.
During his visit, Chinese investors pledged a total of $68.44 billion in investment in Indonesia, while Japan promised $5.6 billion in new investments.
The Foreign Ministry has not confirmed whether Joko would also hold bilateral talks with Abe during the Asian-African Conference.
Xi and Abe are among the 28 heads of state and government who have confirmed their attendance for the conference, taking place this week in Jakarta and Bandung.
Joko previously said Indonesia would bring up several security issues affecting the two continents, including China’s rapid expansion in the South China Sea.
China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Indonesian military commander Gen. Moeldoko said Asia needed a new military balance that was not led by a lone major power.
“There are significant changes in the stable and calm conditions that existed in the region a decade ago,” he told Reuters at the military headquarters in Jakarta. “So everyone has an opinion that China is a threat to the neighborhood. The region needs a new balance.”
As a result of heightened tensions in the region, Indonesia plans to upgrade its military forces in Natuna and Tanjung Datu, areas of the South China Sea near China’s claims.
Moeldoko, who retires as military commander in July, said he wanted to bring together the United States, Japan, China and Southeast Asian nations at a regional defense summit next year in the hopes of easing tensions.
The United States has repeatedly expressed concern about the territorial rivalries threatening “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea; China, though, insists it will always allow ships to sail freely.
But China also believes US complaints on the issue are a way for the superpower, which has no territorial claims in the area, to get involved in the power struggle.
China has expanded its presence in disputed parts of the sea in recent years by embarking on giant reclamation work on reefs and islets, turning some into islands capable of hosting aircraft landing strips.
The Asian-African Summit is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in Jakarta, while a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the conference will take place in Bandung the following day. It will include a walk by the leaders down Jalan Asia-Afrika, retracing a similar procession by the leaders of 60 years ago.
Additional reporting from Reuters & AFP