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Indonesia says PRC’s call for South China Sea negotiations ‘not relevant’


Indonesia has flatly dismissed the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) call for negotiations over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea, saying there is no dispute to negotiate.

Damos Dumoli Agusman, the director general of international law and treaties at Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterated his nation’s prior statement that it had no territorial dispute with Beijing.

Based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), “Indonesia does not have overlapping claims with the PRC, so it is not relevant to hold any dialogue on maritime boundary delimitation,” Agusman told BenarNews, a Radio Free Asia (RFA)-affiliated online news service, in early June 2020.

His comments came days after the Chinese government wrote to the head of the U.N. contending that the two nations had conflicting claims to maritime rights in parts of the sea, a focal point of tension and disagreement in the Indo-Pacific region. That letter, in turn, came on the heels of the Indonesian government’s diplomatic note to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rejecting the PRC’s nine-dash line, according to RFA.

The line demarks the PRC’s territorial claims to a large part of the sea, including the Paracel and Spratly islands. Despite an international court’s 2016 ruling rejecting those claims, the PRC has persisted with aggressive tactics, drawing formal protests from many nations. Among other maneuvers, the PRC has created artificial islands in disputed waters and built military installations on the new land.

“Indonesia reiterates that the nine-dash line map implying historic rights claim clearly lacks international legal basis and is tantamount to upset UNCLOS 1982,” Indonesia’s letter to the U.N. stated, according to RFA. Additionally, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the nine-dash line crosses boundaries established by Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The EEZ, which extends for 370 kilometers, affords Indonesia special rights to marine and other natural resources. In late 2019, a standoff developed between vessels from the two countries in the Natuna Islands after Chinese fishing vessels began operating in the zone, CNN reported. Indonesia responded by deploying fighter jets and naval ships to the area. (Pictured: An Indonesia Air Force F-16 prepares to depart an air base in Pekanbaru to patrol over the South China Sea in January 2020.)

The next month, foreign ministers from the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations issued a statement citing concerns over “land reclamations, recent developments and serious incidents [in the South China Sea], which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security and stability in the region.”

In April 2020, a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat near the Paracel Islands, according to CNN. Vietnam sent a diplomatic note to the U.N. reiterating the sovereignty of its EEZ.

Observers say the PRC has ratcheted up its bellicose stance in the South China Sea as other nations have been distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic fallout. With tensions continuing to run high, United States and Australian naval vessels have conducted joint exercises near waters claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia and the PRC, with the U.S. also conducting freedom of navigation operations.

In a June 1, 2020, letter to Guterres, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft said the U.S. “objects to China’s claim to ‘historic rights’ in the South China Sea.”

“In asserting such vast maritime claims in the South China Sea, China purports to restrict the rights and freedoms, including the navigational rights and freedoms, enjoyed by all States,” Craft wrote.

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