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New Indonesia leader visits China, promises close ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indonesia's President-elect Prabowo Subianto in Beijing

BEIJING (Reuters) -Indonesia's president-elect Prabowo Subianto visited Beijing on Monday on his first foreign trip since his election, and was quoted by Chinese state media as telling President Xi Jinping he aimed to continue the close ties under predecessor Joko Widodo.

Prabowo "fully supports the development of closer Indonesia-China relations and wishes to continue President Joko's policy of friendship with China," China's CCTV quoted Prabowo as saying.

The new Indonesian government will promote the alignment of development strategies between the two countries and push for more results in cooperation in fields such as the economy, trade and poverty alleviation, he said.

Prabowo, now Indonesia's defence minister, also said that he viewed China as a key partner.

"Regarding defence cooperation, I view China as one of the key partners in ensuring regional peace and stability," he said in a statement, adding that he sought to boost defence cooperations with China.

"I also commit to fulfil the needs of Indonesia's military hardware, boost cooperation in the defence industry and establish productive dialogues," he added.

Xi described Prabowo as an "old friend of the Chinese people" and said China views its relations with Indonesia from a strategic and long-term perspective, standing ready to deepen all-round strategic cooperation.

Prabowo, 72, was elected in February but will not be sworn in until October. A long-time rival of the outgoing leader popularly known as Jokowi, he is now widely seen as enjoying his predecessor's strong support, winning his decisive victory with Jokowi's son as his vice presidential running-mate.

"The key to the valuable achievements of China-Indonesia relations lies in adherence to strategic autonomy, mutual trust and mutual assistance," CCTV quoted Xi as saying in the meeting.

Prabowo's decision to visit China ahead of Indonesia's neighbours in the region underlines the close partnership built up in the past decade under Jokowi, when China became Indonesia's top trading partner, supplying natural resources including nickel and coal.

Jokowi's first visit after his inauguration was to China, for an annual summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in 2014. That was followed by six more visits.

China has also ploughed billions into Indonesian infrastructure and industrial projects, including the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway.

It remains to be seen how Prabowo, now Indonesia's defence minister, will navigate issues including the jostling for influence between China and the United States in Southeast Asia.

Prabowo has previously said Indonesia was committed to its policy of non-alignment and would keep good ties with both China and the United States.

China's expansive claims in the South China Sea may present a test for his leadership, although the two countries' overlapping claims there have not become a vociferous dispute as has unfolded in recent months between China and the Philippines.

Indonesia says the southern end of the South China Sea is part of its exclusive economic zone. China says the area is within its own territorial claim, marked by a U-shaped "nine-dash line" rejected by other regional states.

China is willing to continue to deepen maritime cooperation with Indonesia, Xi told Prabowo on Monday.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Liz Lee and Ethan Wang; Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and Ananda Teresia in Jakarta; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graff)