Indonesia and China need to combat the IUU problem

By Rizal Sukma, Indonesian ambassador to the UK and former executive director of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, on March 31 2016

The recent incident involving a Chinese coastguard vessel and Indonesia’s Maritime and Fisheries Monitoring Task Force near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands has once again highlighted the problem of illegal fishing in Indonesia-China relations.

This problem is particularly acute in the natural-resource-rich waters surrounding the Natuna Islands. Similar incidents ‘the arrest by Indonesian patrol boats of Chinese fishermen fishing illegally’ have occurred in the past. The latest was in March 2013, when a Chinese patrol vessel managed to prevent the arrest of a Chinese ship by an Indonesian patrol boat.

In the past, both sides handled the issue quietly, in the hope that the problem would go away. The latest incident, however, clearly shows that such an approach can no longer work.

In fact, China’s behavior has become more assertive, forcing Indonesia to respond accordingly. Therefore, before the issue spirals out of control, it is imperative that Indonesia and China start finding solutions to the problem.

Any settlement should be based on two facts.

First, Indonesia holds full sovereignty over the Natuna Islands and its territorial waters, and has an undisputable sovereign right over the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the surrounding waters. China needs to unambiguously acknowledge this fact.

Second, once the above fact is fully and explicitly acknowledged, it is then clear that Indonesia is not a party to the South China Sea dispute. Indonesia has no claim over any island, rock, atoll, reef and other features in the Spratly or Paracel islands. Nor does Indonesia take sides in the ongoing dispute between China and the four ASEAN claimants (Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei).

These two facts mean that the problem between Indonesia and China lies with fishing rights, not territorial disputes.

Therefore, Indonesia and China need to treat and address the problem as such. The two sides should not allow the problem to develop into a political, let alone territorial, feud.

This requires two important steps to be taken. First, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi, following the incident, has affirmed Indonesia’s position clearly: China should support Indonesia’s attempt to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and should never violate Indonesia’s sovereignty or infringe upon Indonesia’s EEZ and continental shelf. Simply put, China should respect and take the Indonesian position seriously.

China’s argument that its fishermen were conducting activities in areas it considers ‘traditional fishing grounds’ is misleading. In fact, it could complicate the issue and aggravate efforts to find a solution to the problem.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982, to which both Indonesia and China are parties, does not recognize such a concept. The two countries should abide by the convention; it is as simple as that.

Second, Indonesia and China should start discussing a joint strategy on how to combat the IUU problem in the area and beyond. Both Indonesia and China have pledged to work closely to combat organized crime at sea. Illegal fishing clearly comes under such crime, and inflicts an estimated US$20 billion in annual losses on Indonesia.

Unsurprisingly, Indonesia is taking serious steps to combat IUU in its waters, and China should position itself as a reliable partner in that undertaking.

Indonesia values its relationship with China as a comprehensive strategic partnership. So does China. In that context, it is inconceivable that the two nations cannot find an amicable solution to the problem. Indonesia-China relations are too important to be derailed by a dispute over fishing rights. However, without any immediate solution, the problem could quickly escalate into a serious political spat.

Solving this problem in Indonesia-China relations will also strengthen Indonesia’€™s position as a neutral party in the South China Sea dispute. Indonesia’€™s ability to act as an honest broker on this matter will benefit not only China-Indonesia bilateral ties but also the relationship between China and ASEAN.

After all, the future of stability in the region depends on how well ASEAN and China can manage the South China Sea issue. Indonesia is well-placed and more than willing to facilitate the ongoing search for peace in the region.

Source: The Jakarta Post “Indonesia and China need to combat the IUU problem”


10 Comments on “Indonesia and China need to combat the IUU problem”

  1. Joseph says:

    It is a common political practice in Indonesia to appoint political enemies and troublesome political figures as ambassadors as a form of banishment. As Indonesia was a Western proxy in the past, ambassadors held little importance as Indonesia had no effective foreign policy. In the present time, that practice is still ongoing, notably with the banishment of current president’s political enemy and ardent anti-Chinese, Fauzi Bowo as ambassador to Germany. In the past, these unsavoury figures were largely ignored as the West would deal directly to Indonesian government. However, with the current administration has openly refused to obey Western directives, the West find use of these collaborators to ‘represent’ Indonesia.
    Indonesian foreign policy is defined by Indonesian government in Jakarta, not by Indonesian Embassy in faraway London. Whatever Rizal Sukma said does not represent Indonesia unless he was in line with his boss in Jakarta. There are plenty of presidential spokesperson in Jakarta, why would Jakarta-based The Jakarta Post went to faraway place only to find some official to contradict Indonesian administration?


    • Steve says:

      Strange Administration – why would the Indonesian Government appoint such traitorous Ambassadors knowing these troublesome political figures are willing to assist the West to be used as collaborators to represent Indonesian foreign policy. After all, these Ambassadors are aware that Indonesia do not have effective foreign policy.


  2. My Sea says:

    Seems like the Indonesians want it all. Or else. Boo hoo.


    • Joseph says:

      Yes, that was what the West wanted Indonesia to do. You should go to Indonesian government official website to find Indonesian government policy. But I doubt it would be easy to find on Google as it is not exactly Western-friendly, perhaps page 10 or even 50.


  3. Indonesia is Wrong in enforcing the EEZ. Historical rights are Not excluded Explicitly by UNCLOS. If it is so, Japan can point to that and tell Taiwan the EEZ around Diaoyu/Senkaku does now allow Taiwanese intrusion. Yet Japan end up giving a Fishery Quota to Taiwan, implicitly acknowledging Historical Rights to fish. This is prudent and diffuse the tension. Even before that, Japan never have such draconian actions taken by Indonesia. Apparently Japan know UNCLOS does not allow for extreme punishment of illegal fishermen. Indonesia should learn from Japan.

    Further Indonesia Cannot make Domestic Laws that go beyond UNCLOS. If Indonesia behave like the Philippines, arresting foreign fishermen, Jailing them, fining them excessively, this might as well mean 200 NM EEZ BECOME TERRITORIAL SEA of Indonesia, Philippines etc.

    So let me repeat: law enforcement done in 200 NM EEZ that is the SAME as in 12 NM Territorial Sea MEANS the coastal nation like Indonesia Consider 200 NM EEZ AS TERRITORIAL SEA AND THIS IS ILLEGAL.

    UNCLOS EEZ Never accord Domestic Law enforcement to Go Beyond UNCLOS maritime law which basically allocate the fishery, oil/gas resources to the coastal country. This means if there is infraction by foreign fishermen, the right course of action is to Make Whole AND NO MORE, meaning Confiscate the fishes, perhaps make the foreign fishermen pay for law enforcement cost of operation AND NO MORE.

    Burning, sinking foreign ships, jailing them, fining them to discourage further intrusion is Illegal and uncivilize. There is NO precedent to what Indonesia is doing. Indonesia should stop her uncivilize behavior and settle with a fishery quota for China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines etc where their fishermen have ALWAYS went there to fish Pre UNCLOS. They have Historical Rights to fish there and this is NOT explicitly excluded by UNCLOS.

    China should encourage the other countries to join together to pressure Indonesia to give them fishery quota following the Japanese-Taiwanese example.


    • Steve says:

      Congratulations – very well elaborated. Question: Traditional rights to fish and Historical rights has same definition that is not explicitly excluded by UNCLOS.?


      • The most important point I want to repeat is the excessive law enforcement in the 200 NM Effectively turn this zone into Territorial Sea. This is illegal of course as UNCLOS EEZ is ONLY about natural resources for the coastal states and innocent passage per Due Regard clause to coastal states.

        Traditional rights to fish is like a Preexisting Condition like cancer in insurance coverage business. It is Reality and definitely have to be factored into fishery resource distribution among fishing states just like a preexisting health condition Reality necessarily affect premiums, rising it. It is an Inescapable conclusion and Indonesia have to face up to this reality. It just cannot be wished away.

        Call it Traditional Rights, Historical Rights, Historical Title with Rights accorded to island owner to fish, they are all the same. So when China talk of Historical Title to the Nine Dash Line she really mean the islands, shoals, reefs etc and the Rights to fish, drill oil/gas in those disputed EEZ areas like those against PH coastal EEZ.

        UNCLOS is silent on Historical Title, Rights to fish to make it palatable to be signed by as many nations as possible. It is actually a political expediency flawed agreement that cause so much trouble now allowing US, PH to misinterpret it.


        • Steve says:

          Appreciate your reply – I should have said Traditional Grounds as a reference to an area or parameter where Chinese Fishermen traditionally cast their nets during the fishing season as opposed to Historical Rights/title in relation to the nine dash line since ancient times.

          I agree with you that it is a ‘flawed argument’ that are fallacious other than structural (formal) that has allowed US, PH to trace back and misinterpret identifiable fallacies.


    • Kung Fu-Tzu says:

      Blame the Kiwis for aggressively enforcing their 200 mile EEZ first, arresting, detaining and impounding Japanese and other foreign fishing boats and crew way back in the 80s. I suppose they tacitly claimed the Pacific and Tasman seas are not traditional fishing grounds of foreigners which may be the case since NZ is so far off the mainstream habited lands.


  4. Simon says:

    The Nine Dash line in SCS is Chinese territories so in legal terms China does not need so call “honest broker” because there is no negotiation. Any brokering in reality is acting on other claimant’s interests other than China’s so Indonnesia need to accept that. The way I see it Indonesia is trying to “catch a ride on two or more boats” benefiting from all claimants economically and politically, but by not supporting China’s claims completely its hardly surprising for Chinese authority having any respect for Indonesian sovereignty.