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Indonesian President-elect Subianto visits China in bid to strengthen ties

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BEIJING (AP) — Indonesian President-elect Prabowo Subianto pledged to continue his country’s friendly policy toward China as he met Monday with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Subianto, who will succeed Joko Widodo in October, chose Beijing for his first official visit after his February election victory in a bid to emphasize the countries’ robust ties amid rising tensions in the South China Sea.

He will follow up his Beijing trip with a visit to Japan, suggesting that Indonesia will continue to pursue a middle road between Beijing and the United States’ allies in the region, such as Japan and the Philippines.

Subianto described China as Indonesia’s “strong cooperative partner,” according to a readout of his meeting with Xi, released by the official Xinhua news agency. The president-elect expressed his willingness to continue Widodo’s “friendly policy” toward Beijing and promote cooperation in fields such as the economy, trade and poverty alleviation.

He is set to also meet with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Defense Minister Dong Jun before departing on Tuesday.

China became Indonesia’s largest trading partner during Widodo’s decade in office, with Beijing investing billions in major infrastructure projects such as the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, which opened last October, and Cirata, Southeast Asia’s largest floating solar power project, on a reservoir in West Java, 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the capital Jakarta.

Xi said China wanted to continue to build strong ties with Indonesia and referred to the Jakarta-Bandung railway as a “golden” example of the countries’ cooperation, according to Xinhua.

Xi added China was willing to deepen maritime cooperation with Indonesia and provide it with support in poverty reduction and alleviation.

Indonesia has maintained a relatively neutral stance amid rising tensions between China and the Philippines over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The Philippines has boosted security ties with Washington since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office in 2022, shifting back from the more China-friendly policy of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

China and the Philippines have been engaging in repeated high-seas confrontations since last year, sparking fears of a larger conflict that could put China and the U.S. on a collision course.

The U.S. has warned repeatedly that it’s obligated to defend the Philippines — its oldest treaty ally in Asia — if Filipino forces, ships or aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.

China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the resource-rich and busy waterway. Beijing has refused to recognize a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated its expansive claims on historical grounds.

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