Indonesia holds Chinese fishing crew

Indonesia’s Natuna islands. Source: Wikimedia

Jakarta is holding a Chinese fishing crew it says was fishing illegally last week in the South China Sea. It was the third naval incident, all involving warning shots, between China and Indonesia in three months.

On Friday Indonesian warships challenged Chinese fishing boats operating within Indonesia’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone off the coast of the Natuna islands, northwest of Borneo, said Atmadji Sumarkidjo, a spokesman for the Indonesian government.

Its navy fired warning shots to force the fishing boats to stop, which Beijing claims injured one sailor, confiscated one boat and took its seven sailors to the Natunas, Atmadji said. The injured sailor was treated in China’s Hainan.

“Like the previous incidents, the Chinese ships were fishing in the area that we claim is part of our EEZ [exclusive economic zone],” Atmadji added. “The navy pursued them, and they tried to run away and did not obey our instructions to stop.”

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the boats were in “China’s traditional fishing grounds” and “harassed and shot by several Indonesian naval vessels”.

“China urges Indonesia to stop taking action that escalates tension, complicates issues, or affects peace and stability,” Hua said.

Beijing said it had lodged a diplomatic protest to Indonesia. In March, China’s coast guard recovered a fishing vessel that had been confiscated by the Indonesians near the Natunas by ramming the boat. Indonesia fired warning shots at the boat, using light weaponry to force it to stop.

In May, Indonesia’s navy fired warning shots at a Chinese fishing boat and detained its eight sailors.

“You call yourself a big and strong nation, but how come a small country like Indonesia dares to slap your face?” someone asked on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter.

Another post read: “Where’s the hawkish faction in the military? It’s your turn to make an appearance now.”

“Are our ships encountering pirates? If we bumped into [the Indonesians] again, we must use military retaliation to protect ourselves,” another wrote.

Indonesia is not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute with China, but its nine-dash line, which claims around 90 per cent of the sea, overlaps part of the economic zone around the Natunas.