US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Indonesia on Thursday for its rejection of China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea.
Earlier this year, Indonesia expelled Chinese fishing and coastguard vessels that Jakarta said were encroaching on its exclusive economic zone off Natuna Islands.
Pompeo’s comment during his trip to Indonesia echo remarks made in previous stops on his four-nation Indo-Pacific tour, which has been seen as an effort to bolster ties and contain China’s growing influence in the region. He has already visited Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives.
“All law-abiding nations reject the unlawful claims made by the Chinese Communist Party in the South China Sea,” Pompeo told reporters after talks with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in Jakarta.
“We welcome the example Indonesia set with decisive action to safeguard its maritime sovereignty around the Natuna Islands,” he said.
“The South China Sea should be maintained as a stable and peaceful sea,” Retno said.
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, provoking friction with other nations. The sea is also claimed in part by Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
Indonesia does not see itself as involved in the South China Sea dispute, but sees Beijing’s claims as a violation of international law.
Retno said in August that Indonesia does not want to be caught up in rivalries between Washington and Beijing, despite occasional tensions over the alleged incursions of Chinese fishing vessels and the deaths of over a dozen Indonesian sailors working on Chinese boats in the past year.