Jakarta defiant over Natunas

An Indonesian frigate on patrol. Source: Wikimedia

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has rejected China’s claim that it had competing claims in the South China Sea, after several strikes by the Indonesia’s navy on Chinese fishing boats.

Indonesia was not previously part of a broader regional dispute over China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea, with Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan the nations listed as having overlapping claims with Beijing.

The Chinese fishing boat seized last Friday was among 57 foreign-flagged vessels captured by the Indonesian authorities this year, according to the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti.

Three of the boats were Chinese, 49 came from Vietnam, four from Malaysia and one from Thailand with 176 boats blown up and sunk since October last year, Susi added.

China’s Foreign Ministry said this week that the two nations did not have any territorial dispute but instead had some overlapping claims on “maritime rights and interests”.

Jakarta has objected to China’s inclusion of waters around Indonesia’s Natuna Islands within a “nine-dash line” Beijing marks on maps to show its claim to the region.

“Our position is clear that claims can only be made on the basis of international law. For Indonesia, we don’t have overlapping claims in any form in Indonesian waters with China,” Retno told the media.

Beijing said the Indonesian navy at the weekend fired on a Chinese fishing boat near the islands on Friday, injuring one fisherman.

Jakarta said its navy had fired warning shots at several boats carrying the Chinese flags that it were deemed to be fishing illegally and it denied there were any injuries.

President Joko Widodo said he would personally inspect the Chinese boat captured by his navy.

Riau Islands spokesman Hery Mokhrizal said the president would arrive on Thursday to visit the naval base in Ranai, where the China-flagged Yueyandong Yu boat and its crew of seven had been held since last Friday.

Chinese fishing boats poaching near the Natunas was a ruse by China to stake its territorial claims, the commander of the Western Fleet A Taufiq R said on Tuesday.

Indonesia only recently became embroiled in the dispute in March after China said the waters around the Natunas, within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, were its “traditional fishing grounds” and vessels should be free to fish there.

Friday’s incident was the third reported confrontation near the Natunas in as many months.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla said naval assets would become increasingly assertive in protecting Natunas’ waters.

Retno, however, denied that relations were strained with Beijing.

China’s state media has reported that the disputed Spratly Islands, widely recognised as belonging to the Philippines, will become a tourist attraction by 2020.