Indonesia is not a party to the territorial dispute, and it enjoys mostly friendly ties with China.
The United States announced in 2010 that it had lifted its outright ban on USA military contacts with the 6,000-member Indonesian unit, known as Kopassus, which was accused of rights abuses in East Timor as it prepared for independence. During his trip, Mattis was received by Jokowi and met with Indonesian officials including Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Wiranto, Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) chief Hadi Tjahjanto, and Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
Perhaps the highlight was a demonstration involving live snakes, which Indonesian forces brought out in bags and scattered on the ground, just feet from where Mattis was standing.
"What we're looking for is a world where we solve problems and we don't shred trust, we don't militarize features in the middle of global waters, we don't invade other countries, in Russia's case", Mattis said Sunday.
Kopassus' alleged abuses include massacres in East Timor, the abduction and forced disappearance of student pro-democracy activists, and a torture campaign in Aceh during a now-ended insurgency.
Mattis says he believes the group has reformed and would now stand up to the scrutiny of the so-called Leahy Law, which prohibits the United States from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights.
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"They are a very, very effective counterterrorism unit", Felter said.
After meeting with the USA defense secretary, Ryacudu explained that the United States will assist in the implementation of trilateral patrols in coordination with Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines to prevent terror threats in Sulu Sea. "I am very glad because, after all, the USA has more sophisticated equipment, [and] we need that help." said Ryamizard. USA policymakers across administrations have recognized that Indonesia - the world's largest archipelagic state and biggest Muslim-majority country - is a significant actor in Southeast Asia and an important partner in addressing challenges ranging from maritime security to Islamic extremism. Marine Corps photo by Cpl.
Mattis' Asia visit followed his unveiling late last week of the USA national defense strategy, the first time the new US administration had spelled out its security priorities. Mattis said on the plane to Vietnam, the next stop on his tour.
He tied the trip to a line of effort in the newly released National Defense Strategy: strengthening existing alliances and making new partners.
That area lays claim to 90 percent of disputed waters as China's.
"Indonesia's experience in overcoming terrorism has made it to be known as a country that has succeeded in handling terrorism, and we have hard and soft approaches", Wiranto said after meeting Mattis, as quoted by local media.