Indonesia rejected a U.S. request to allow P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes to land and refuel in the Southeast Asian country, four unidentified senior Indonesian officials told Reuters.
According to the sources, U.S. officials offered the “high-level” proposal multiple times in July and August, but Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, eventually rejected the request.
Reuters reported that the U.S. request surprised Indonesian government officials due to the island nation’s traditional stance of neutrality in foreign affairs, with the country never permitting the presence of foreign military forces.
When contacted by The Hill, a U.S. Defense official said that while the department does not comment on military operation discussions with U.S. partners, the agency had a "productive meeting" on Friday with Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto.
According to a joint statement from Subianto and Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperMilley and China — what the Senate really needs to know Biden, Trump battle over who's to blame for Afghanistan Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief defends Milley after Trump book criticism | Addresses critical race theory | Top general says Taliban has 'strategic momentum' in war MORE, "both leaders shared their desire to enhance bilateral military-to-military activities and work together on maritime security."
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
The P-8 spy planes would allow the U.S. to monitor Chinese military activities in the South China Sea. While China declares most of this area as sovereign territory, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all have competing claims over the waterway.
Indonesia considers a portion of the South China Sea as its own, repeatedly dispelling Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing boats from an area to which Beijing claims to have historic ties.
However, while Indonesia also has growing economic and investment links with China, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told Reuters early last month that it does not want to take sides amid the growing tensions between the U.S. and China.
“We don’t want to get trapped by this rivalry,” Retno said at the time. “Indonesia wants to show all that we are ready to be your partner.”
Despite Indonesia’s stance of neutrality, Dino Patti Djalal, a former Indonesian ambassador to the United States, told Reuters that the “very aggressive anti-China policy” of the U.S. has caused concern among Indonesian officials.
“It’s seen as out-of-place,” he said. “We don’t want to be duped into an anti-China campaign. Of course we maintain our independence, but there is deeper economic engagement and China is now the most impactful country in the world for Indonesia.”
Military analysts told Reuters that the U.S. has used its military bases in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia for P-8 flights over the South China Sea.
In August, the Defense Department condemned China over its ballistic missile tests in the South China Sea, saying at the time that they were “counterproductive" to quelling tensions in the region.
“The [People’s Republic of China’s (PRC)] actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea,” the department said in a statement.