Indonesian President Joko Widodo has reaffirmed the archipelago’s sovereignty over a group of remote atolls in the South China Sea that are within Beijing’s controversial “nine-dash line” of territorial ambition.
Beijing claims around 80 per cent of the South China Sea as its territory and traditional fishing grounds.
Widodo toured the Natuna Islands in a naval vessel along with his military chiefs in a show of defiance to China.
The Natunas, approximately 1,100km north of Jakarta, are on the fringe of China’s territorial claims. Indonesia, with its powerful military, is relatively removed from the South China Sea dispute, compared with the Philippines and Vietnam.
“Natuna is part of Indonesia’s territory, there is no question, no doubt,” Widodo said after the visit. “There is no bargaining for our sovereignty.”
The president met administrators and fishing representatives from the islands to discuss their issues.
A Chinese fishing fleet remained within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with two more ships on their way, said Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) chief Vice Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrochman.
“There are three coastguard vessels [near the Natuna Islands] and two vessels are further north. We’ll see whether the ships are part of a rotation or serve as reinforcement because we also see a logistical boat,” he said.
Indonesia’s EEZ is delineated according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), by contrast with China’s unilateral “nine-dash line”.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang last week stated that Chinese fishing crews should be free to work within the Indonesian EEZ.
“Whether the Indonesian side accepts it or not, nothing will change the objective fact that China has rights and interests over the waters,” Geng told the media.
Indonesia responded by increasing its military deployments around the Natunas.
Indonesia summoned the Chinese ambassador and lodged an official protest with China.
There have been reports of numerous Chinese fishing crews, escorted by naval vessels, aggressively moving into Indonesian waters and ignoring demands for them to leave.
Indonesian military spokesman Major General Sisriadi said six warships and four jet fighters had been deployed and a maritime information centre would monitor foreign incursions.
Indonesia has sunk more than 500 allegedly illegal fishing vessels since October 2014.
Elsewhere in the South China Sea, the Chinese have constructed seven manmade islands with airstrips and missile strongholds throughout one of the world’s busiest waterways.
The Indonesian armed forces are increasingly interested in the Natuna Islands. Picture credit: Wikimedia