US Secretary of State Pompeo to visit Indonesia after spy plane rebuff

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. - AFP

JAKARTA (Reuters): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Indonesia next week, his first trip to the country since its leadership rejected a US proposal to host its spy planes.

Pompeo will address an Islamic youth group conference on religion and civilisation in Jakarta, Indonesia's foreign minister Retno Marsudi said on Thursday (Oct 22), without providing further details of his itinerary.

Earlier, Pompeo told reporters in Washington that he hoped to meet with Retno and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo on the trip.

The visit comes amid an escalating US-China rivalry that is being vigorously contested in Southeast Asia, especially in the South China Sea, which China claims as almost entirely its own territory. The claim is opposed by many regional states, including Indonesia.

Pompeo's visit comes after the US made high-level approaches to Retno and Indonesia's defence minister Prabowo Subianto in late July and early August to grant landing and refuelling rights to its P-8 surveillance planes that monitor Chinese military activity in the resource-rich waterway.

The offer was rebuffed by Mr Joko, according to four senior officials. Indonesia has long followed a neutral foreign policy and has never allowed its territory to be used as a staging ground for foreign military operations.

Pompeo declined to directly answer questions on the spy plane proposal, referring reporters to the Pentagon.

Spokesmen for the Pentagon, the Indonesian president, foreign minister and defence minister either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

"There are commercial issues, security issues, and diplomatic issues where the United States has already improved the relationship between the countries," he said.

"But there's more that we can do."

Pompeo's Jakarta visit will conclude a four-day trip that includes stops in India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

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