France and Indonesia seek to improve their defence and strategic relationship in the Indo-Pacific.
Writing for ASPI’s The Strategist this week, executive director of Verve Research Natalie Sambhi shines a spotlight on the growing relationship between France and Indonesia, a pairing that has many analysts scratching their heads.
Indonesia provides France with the opportunity to protect and strengthen their overseas territories in the Indo-Pacific. Indeed, as Sambhi notes, 93 per cent of France’s exclusive economic zone lies in the Indo-Pacific, and the French are the only members of the European Union to have a military presence in the Indian Ocean. Simply, reaching out to nations such as Indonesia is crucial move for the protection over French overseas territories.
Indonesia ticks all of the boxes for French outreach. Sambhi points out that not only does Indonesia pursue a policy of nonalignment, but they possess similarly aligned policies regarding defence strategy in the region. Sambhi continues, how far can the two nations pursue this growing love affair?
Defence procurement underpins much of this burgeoning relationship. Sambhi points out that the Indonesian Ministry of Defense expressed their intention to pursue the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets and five customised Scorpène submarines. Recently, French and Indonesian officials even began the process of looking into joint military exercises.
France and Indonesia’s naval needs also fulfill each other. Indonesia needs a strong navy. It is an archipelago after all. France has a strong defence building industry and a strong navy. Meanwhile, both countries are members of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean naval symposia and would find use in mutual naval dialogue. It seems that the duo naturally fulfils one another’s needs.
Sambhi notes that Canberra is likely to see this burgeoning relationship in a positive light.
“From Canberra’s perspective, closer ties between Paris and Jakarta are undoubtedly a positive thing. For one, Australia supports France’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific. The 2018 vision statement on the France–Australia relationship supports closer bilateral cooperation with like-minded partners to bolster regional maritime security, particularly in the Indian Ocean,” Sambhi notes.
Better military equipment will further allow the Indonesians to position themselves with greater confidence in the region.
Sambhi continues that the Indonesian and French co-operation would provide an opportunity for Australia to expand its international co-operation in the Indo-Pacific.
“Ties between Australia, India and France expanded further last year with the first virtual senior officials’ meeting, undoubtedly with an eye to further Indian Ocean co-operation. There’s certainly potential to find niche areas of overlap between that grouping and the more established Indonesia–Australia–India trilateral, which is currently developing a new maritime exercise,” Sambhi argues.
Australian defence relies on building co-operative networks of nations for our security. French and Indonesian co-operation will open up a new avenue to pursue this regional stability. While Sambhi notes that the Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo may be pursuing this to strengthen his claim for the presidency in 2024, it nevertheless establishes links across the Indo-Pacific with helps Australia’s security.