The format is located near four important Indo-Pacific choke points
The strategic trend in Indo-Pacific security has been the movement away from just a US “hub and spoke” bilateral alliances system, to variable geometry and cross-bracing partnerships between various countries. The Australia-India-Indonesia (AII) format illustrates this in recent months.
Firstly, on the 19th of November 2019 in New Delhi, senior officials from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and India’s Ministry of External Affairs met for the third India-Australia-Indonesia Trilateral Senior Officials’ Dialogue, initiated in 2017. Discussions included their respective foreign policy priorities, the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Outlook, India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, developments in the Indo-Pacific, development assistance programs, maritime issues and humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.
Secondly, the Indonesian, Indian and Australian navies held a three-day Trilateral Indian Ocean Maritime Security workshop in Fremantle, Western Australia from 25-27 November.
Thirdly, India’s influential Observer Research Foundation released a report on the 17th of January 2020 entitled: Anchoring the Indo-Pacific: The Case for Deeper Australia–India–Indonesia Trilateral Cooperation.
Fourthly, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in partnership with the Australian and Indonesian governments, organised the fourth EAS Conference on Maritime Security Cooperation in Chennai from 6-7 February, 2020. Thematic sessions were run on Holistic Maritime Security, Maritime Safety, Regional Blue Economy, India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative.
Fifthly and finally was, President Jokowi’s trip to Australia, including his speech to the Australian parliament. In the Joint Statement made with the Australia Prime Minister on the 10th of February, in a section devoted to “Maritime Cooperation” China was in the frame of their discussions:
Leaders expressed serious concerns about developments in the South China Sea, including the continued militarisation of disputed features, and reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, and freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. They called for disputes to be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982.
This reflects Indonesia’s tacit and Australia’s explicit support to US freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, which China vehemently criticises. The context for this Indonesian readiness to sign up to the principle of freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea was perhaps its confrontations with China over the Natuna waters in January 2020. In a special section devoted to Contributing to Indo-Pacific Stability and Prosperity, Australia and Indonesia “looked forward to working closely with India”. This returns their bilateral discussions to the trilateral setting.
David Scott is a prolific author, with three books on China in the international system; an associate member of the Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies, and a member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC).