Joko Widodo rushes to the Natuna Islands . . .
Indonesian President Joko Widodo flew to Natuna Besar Island, located in the Riau Islands province on the southwest side of the South China Sea, to deliver an uncompromising message defending Indonesia’s sovereignty after repeated and protracted incursions by Chinese fishing and coast guard vessels into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This most recent standoff between China and Indonesia began on the cusp of 2020 and prompted a swift and assertive response from Indonesian leadership: formal diplomatic complaints to Beijing, warships and fighter jets deployed to the region and even the unveiling of a military drone. Reports on Thursday verified that the Chinese vessels have left Indonesia’s EEZ.
Hot waters . . .
A similar standoff occurred in 2016, when the Indonesian navy captured a Chinese fishing vessel. In 2017, Indonesia renamed the northern part of its EEZ to the North Natuna Sea, a move to push back against its giant neighbor to the north. Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have also experienced repeated clashes in the disputed areas around the Spratly Islands, and consequently have stepped up military defenses in their respective EEZs. They have continued to dispute China’s controversial Nine-Dash Line, which unilaterally claims most of the South China Sea as its traditional fishing waters, instead demanding that China adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Command and control of the commons . . .
There are multiple and overlapping marine and territorial claims between Southeast Asian nations and China in the South China Sea, an area rich in fish, oil and gas and vital shipping lanes. Some analysts believe that China, which has built naval and aircraft bases in the region, commands the South China Sea’s security on both water and in the air, putting maritime ASEAN nations and the United States at a significant disadvantage. For Indonesia and its neighbors, disputes in South China Sea require calculated responses. Adding to Jakarta’s complicated relations with Beijing, Widodo and his counterparts are attempting to maintain access to China’s vast markets and to Belt and Road funds for needed infrastructure, while simultaneously not ‘selling out’ national sovereignty to China
- Channel News Asia: Indonesia’s President visits Natuna islands in waters disputed by China
- News.com.au: ‘We’re on full alert’: China’s aggressive South China Sea move
- Nikkei Asian Review: Indonesia asks Japan to invest in islands amid China standoff