Asserting sovereignty, Indonesia renames part of South China Sea


Indonesia’s Deputy Minister for Maritime Affairs Arif Havas Oegroseno points at the location of North Natuna Sea on a new map of Indonesia during talks with reporters in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 14, 2017. Photo: Beawiharta

Tom Allard and Bernadette Christina Munthe July 14, 2017

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea on Friday, the latest act of resistance by Southeast Asian nations to China’s territorial ambitions in the maritime region.

Seen by analysts as an assertion of Indonesian sovereignty, part of the renamed sea is claimed by China under its contentious maritime boundary, known as the ‘nine-dash line’, that encompasses most of the resource-rich sea.

Several Southeast Asian states dispute China’s territorial claims and are competing with China to exploit the South China Sea’s abundant hydrocarbon and fishing resources. China has raised the ante by deploying military assets on artificial islands constructed on shoals and reefs in disputed parts of the sea.

Indonesia insists it’s a non-claimant state in the South China Sea dispute but has clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands, detaining Chinese fishermen and expanding its military presence in the area over the past 18 months.

Unveiling the new official map, the deputy of maritime sovereignty at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Arif Havas Oegroseno, noted the northern side of its exclusive economic zone was the site of oil and gas activity.

“We want to update the naming of the sea [and] we gave a new name in line with the usual practice: the North Natuna Sea,” he told reporters.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he didn’t know anything about the details of the issue, but said the name South China Sea had broad international recognition and clear geographic limits.

“Certain countries’ so-called renaming is totally meaningless,” he told a daily news briefing. “We hope the relevant country can meet China halfway and properly maintain the present good situation in the South China Sea region, which has not come easily.”

‘Clear Message’

I Made Andi Arsana, an expert on the Law of the Sea from Indonesia’s Universitas Gadjah Mada, said the renaming carried no legal force but was a political and diplomatic statement.

“It will be seen as a big step by Indonesia to state its sovereignty,” he told Reuters. “It will send a clear message, both to the Indonesian people and diplomatically speaking.”

Euan Graham, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute, said Indonesia’s action followed renewed resistance to Chinese territorial claims by other Southeast Asian states.

“This will be noticed in Beijing,” he said.

Last week, Vietnam extended an Indian oil concession off its coast while a joint venture led by state-owned PetroVietnam commenced drilling further south. China has a territorial claim in both areas.

Meanwhile, the director of the Philippines Energy Resource Development Bureau, Ismael Ocampo, said on Wednesday that the country could lift a suspension on oil and gas drilling on the Reed Bank by December. The underwater mountain, lying 85 nautical miles off the Philippines coast, is also claimed by China.

Exploration activity was suspended in late 2014 as the Philippines sought an international ruling on China’s territorial claim. The Philippines won the case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague one year ago.

China refused to recognize the decision. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on June 30 last year, expressed reluctance about enforcing the decision at the time, as he sought deeper diplomatic and economic ties with China.

However, the Philippines lately has become more assertive about its sovereignty.

More than two dozen oil, gas and coal blocks, including additional areas in disputed waters, may be offered during the December bidding, Ocampo said on Wednesday.

Reporting by Tom Allard and Bernadette Christina Munthe; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Bill Tarrant

Source: Reuters “Asserting sovereignty, Indonesia renames part of South China Sea”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

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Indonesia air force holds its largest military exercise in South China Sea


Indonesian Air Force Sukhoi fighter pilots and crew walk across the tarmac after training for an upcoming military exercise at Hang Nadim Airport, Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia October 3, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken October 3, 2016. Antara Foto/M N Kanwa/ via REUTERS

Indonesian Air Force Sukhoi fighter pilots and crew walk across the tarmac after training for an upcoming military exercise at Hang Nadim Airport, Batam, Riau Islands, Indonesia October 3, 2016 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken October 3, 2016. Antara Foto/M N Kanwa/ via REUTERS

Indonesia’s air force is holding its largest military exercise this week, near some of its islands in the South China Sea, in a show of sovereignty over the gas-rich area on the fringe of territory claimed by China, officials said on Tuesday.

President Joko Widodo in June launched an unprecedented campaign to bolster fishing, oil exploration and defense facilities around the Natuna island chain after a series of face-offs between the Indonesian navy and Chinese fishing boats.

China, while not disputing Indonesia’s clams to the Natuna islands, has raised Indonesian anger by saying the two countries had “over-lapping claims” to waters near them, an area Indonesia calls the Natuna Sea.

“We want to show our existence in the area. We have a good enough air force to act as a deterrent,” said Jemi Trisonjaya, spokesman for Indonesia’s air force.

More than 2,000 air force personnel were taking part in the two-week long exercise, which includes the deployment of Indonesia’s fleet of Russian Sukhoi and F-16 fighter jets, he said.

Other branches of the Indonesian armed forces are not taking part in exercise, which ends on Thursday.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, where about $5 trillion worth of trade passes every year. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Source: Reuters “Indonesia air force holds its largest military exercise in South China Sea”

Note: This is Reuters report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Indonesia hopes fishermen can net its South China Sea claims


A fishing boat motors back to shore on the east coast of Natuna Besar July 8, 2014. Picture taken July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

A fishing boat motors back to shore on the east coast of Natuna Besar July 8, 2014. Picture taken July 8, 2014. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Indonesia wants to send hundreds of fishermen to the Natuna Islands to assert its sovereignty over nearby areas of the South China Sea to which China says it also has claims.

President Joko Widodo has launched an unprecedented campaign to bolster fishing, oil exploration and defense facilities around the island chain after a series of face-offs between the Indonesian navy and Chinese fishing boats.

“We are aware that if we don’t do this there could be many claims that disrupt the integrity of Indonesian territory,” Chief Maritime Minister Rizal Ramli told reporters on Wednesday.

The announcement of the plan came a day after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague rejected China’s historic claims to almost all of the South China Sea and said it had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights by endangering its ships and fishing and oil projects.

Indonesia is not part of the broader dispute over claims in the South China Sea and it has remained neutral following the ruling, calling for peace and stability.

But Indonesia objects to China’s inclusion of waters around Natuna being included within its “nine-dash line”, a demarcation on China’s maps to show its claims.

Ramli said he would seek cabinet approval this month for the relocation of fishermen from the crowded island of Java to Natuna.

Under the plan, the government would move about 400 wooden boats of 30 tonnes or more to Natuna by the end of October. Fishermen who go could get subsidized housing, while the island’s ports, power supply and internet will be upgraded.

The program is expected to boost fishing in Natuna waters from 9.3 percent of sustainable catchment levels to 40 percent in less than a year.

“We will build cold storage there. We hope this will become the biggest fish market in Southeast Asia,” Ramli said.

Ramli, who also oversees energy as part of his portfolio, said he also would review oil and gas concessions in Natuna and revoke permits from companies that are not developing their blocks.

ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and PTT Exploration and Production are among foreign oil companies with stakes in Natuna, which holds one of the world’s largest untapped gas reserves.

Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, said no one wanted conflict in the South China Sea and she called on all parties to avoid raising tension.

“We are sure that if all sides respect international law, then it will be easier to achieve regional and global peace and stability,” she told reporters.

(Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: Reuters “Indonesia hopes fishermen can net its South China Sea claims”


Indonesian president to assert sovereignty in islands visit


 Two empty hangers stand near the beach at Ranai Airbase on Natuna Besar, Indonesia July 10, 2014. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne/File Photo

Two empty hangers stand near the beach at Ranai Airbase on Natuna Besar, Indonesia July 10, 2014. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne/File Photo

The Indonesian president will travel to the Natuna Islands for the first time on Thursday to assert Indonesia’s sovereignty, a senior official said, after China said earlier this week it had an “overlapping claim” over nearby waters.

Beijing said on Monday that waters near the Natuna Islands were subject to overlapping claims on “maritime rights and interests” between China and Indonesia.

Indonesia’s foreign minister on Wednesday rejected China’s stance, saying the waters were in Indonesian territory.

“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,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters.

The chief security minister, foreign minister, and the heads of the individual military branches will accompany the president on his trip to Natuna, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Agung told reporters.

Asked the reason for the trip, he told reporters, “Natuna is the territory of Indonesia, that is final. As head of the government and the state, the president wants to ensure that Natuna is part of Indonesia’s sovereignty.”

The remote island chain has a small civilian population. Jakarta objects to Beijing’s inclusion of waters around the islands within China’s “nine-dash line”, a demarcation line used by Beijing to show its claim to the South China Sea.

Despite the objection, Indonesia is not part of a broader regional dispute over China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea and Beijing’s claims on swathes of key waterways.

China’s Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that an Indonesian naval vessel fired on a Chinese fishing boat near the chain of islands on Friday, wounding one person.

Indonesia’s navy responded that it had fired warning shots at several boats with Chinese flags it accused of fishing illegally but that nobody had been wounded.

It was the third reported confrontation near the Natuna Islands this year and comes amid rising regional tensions over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla told Reuters on Monday the Southeast Asian nation would be more assertive in protecting its exclusive right to the waters around the Natuna Islands.

Despite this more assertive stance, Retno said relations between the two countries remained good.

“This is a matter of law enforcement, not politics,” she said.

(Addditional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Michael Perry and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Source: Reuters “Indonesian president to assert sovereignty in islands visit”


Indonesia vows to stand firm after skirmishes with Chinese ships


Indonesia's Vice President Jusuf Kalla speaks during an interview with Reuters in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla speaks during an interview with Reuters in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Indonesia is determined to assert its exclusive right to a corner of the South China Sea where there has been a run of skirmishes between Indonesian navy ships and Chinese vessels, the vice-president said on Monday.

Jusuf Kalla told Reuters that Indonesia would send a message to Beijing demanding that it respect the Southeast Asian nation’s sovereignty over waters around the Natuna Islands.

China’s Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that an Indonesian naval vessel fired on a Chinese fishing boat near the chain of islands on Friday, injuring one person.

Indonesia’s navy responded that it had fired warning shots at several boats with Chinese flags it accused of fishing illegally but there were no injuries.

It was the third reported confrontation near the Natuna Islands this year and comes amid rising regional tensions over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

“This is not a clash, but we are protecting the area,” Kalla said in an interview with Reuters at the presidential palace.

Asked if the Indonesian government had made a decision to be more assertive, he said: “Yes, we will continue.”

Asked about Kalla’s remarks on Monday, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said China had expressed condemnation of the “indiscriminate use of force”.

“We urge the Indonesian side to refrain from any action that complicates or magnifies the dispute, or impacts the peace and stability of the region,” Hua said.

Indonesia is not part of a broader regional dispute over China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea and Beijing’s claims on swathes of key waterways.

But Jakarta has objected to China’s inclusion of parts of the Indonesian-ruled Natuna Islands within a “nine-dash line” Beijing marks on maps to show its claim on the body of water.

China has said it does not dispute Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, but Kalla said its ships sometimes claim that they have the right to operate in waters around the islands because they are “traditional Chinese fishing grounds”.

“But we are focused on the legal basis,” Kalla said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. “We will send a message to the other side to honor the area in accordance with the law.”

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

(Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Source: Reuters “Indonesia vows to stand firm after skirmishes with Chinese ships”


Indonesian navy fires on Chinese boat, Beijing says one injured


An Indonesian naval vessel fired on a Chinese fishing boat on Friday, injuring one person, China’s foreign ministry said, the countries’ third reported confrontation this year near a chain of islands as regional tensions mount in the South China Sea.

Indonesia’s navy said it had fired warning shots at several boats with Chinese flags that it accused of fishing illegally near the Natuna Islands – but a spokesman told Reuters there had been no injuries.

Indonesia is not part of a broader regional dispute over China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea and Beijing’s claims on swathes of key waterways.

But Jakarta has objected to China’s inclusion of parts of the Indonesian-ruled Natuna Islands within a “nine-dash line” that Beijing marks on maps to show its claim on the body of water.

China has said it does not dispute Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, although the statement said the area where the incident occurred is subject to overlapping interests.

The Indonesian warship damaged one Chinese fishing boat and detained another with seven people on board, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said on the ministry website on Sunday.

Hua said the Chinese coast guard rescued the injured fisherman, who was transported to the southern Chinese island province of Hainan for treatment where his injuries were under control.

It was unclear from the statement whether Indonesia was still holding the vessel and those aboard.

Beijing had made official protests over the incident, the ministry said in its statement, and urged Indonesia not to take any more actions to complicate the situation. There have been two other encounters reported between Indonesian naval vessels and Chinese fishing boats near the islands this year.

(Reporting by Jake Spring and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Source: Reuters “Indonesian navy fires on Chinese boat, Beijing says one injured”


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”