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Indonesia, South Korea mark milestone with deeper defense collaboration

Felix Kim

As they mark 50 years of diplomatic relations in 2023, Indonesia and South Korea are taking their already robust defense relations to a new level.

In 2017, the governments elevated their strategic partnership to a “special strategic partnership.” Bolstering the arrangement in late July 2023, the nations signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on peacekeeping operations (PKO), including information sharing and participation in United Nations’ missions, according to South Korea’s National Defense Ministry.

“I am optimistic that the continuation of cooperation through the MoU on weapons of U.N. peacekeeping operations between the TNI [Indonesian Armed Forces] and ROKAF [Republic of Korea Armed Forces] will increasingly have an effect on the close strategic partnership of the two countries, as well as having a positive impact on each other in a mutually beneficial relationship for the two countries,” Maj. Gen. Muhammad Nur Rahmad, head of the TNI’s Combined Forces Command operational staff, told the Indonesia Business Post newspaper.

As of 2022, more than 500 South Korean peacekeepers were serving in six PKOs worldwide, according to the U.N. Meanwhile, Indonesia had nearly 2,700 military and police personnel serving in seven multinational PKOs.

In addition to bolstering information sharing, the MoU is expected to create more bilateral training opportunities. Indonesian service members, for example, have trained at a South Korean Presidential Security Service facility, according to Indonesia’s embassy in Seoul, and the nations’ military education institutions frequently participate in student exchanges.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi highlighted the need for broader cooperation on PKOs, along with other shared strategic concerns such as cybersecurity, maritime security and counterterrorism during bilateral meetings in March 2023.

The cooperation should extend to the countries’ defense industries, Retno added. “We need to strengthen the collaboration between Indonesia’s state-owned enterprises, such as PT Pindad, PTDI and PT PAL, with South Korean partners.” South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) and Indonesia’s PT PAL built three diesel-powered submarines for the Indonesian Navy between 2016 and 2019 in a deal worth $1.1 billion.

DSME built the first two in South Korea, and PT PAL built the third at its Indonesian shipyard.

Since 2010, the countries have been developing a multirole fighter to serve their air forces. Known as the KF-21 Boramae in South Korea and the IF-X in Indonesia, the aircraft is expected to enter service in 2026.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor based in Seoul, South Korea.

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