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INDONESIA: Seeking Investment in Disputed Waters

Indonesian President Joko Widodo in January 2020 asked Japan to step up investment in fisheries and energy in some of its South China Sea islands following a standoff with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in waters the PRC claims in the area.

Widodo made the request for Japan to consider economic opportunities in the Natuna Islands during a visit to Jakarta by Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, the president’s office said. “I want to invite Japan to invest in Natuna,” he told Motegi, adding that Japan was one of Indonesia’s major economic partners.

Widodo visited Natuna in January 2020 to assert Indonesia’s sovereignty over the cluster of islands and the waters around them, after reports that Chinese coast guard and fishing vessels had entered Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone several times since December 2019. (Pictured: Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, left, shakes hands with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi during a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia.)

The PRC has not claimed the Natuna Islands themselves, but it says it has nearby fishing rights within a self-proclaimed Nine-Dash Line — a line on Chinese maps that it says shows its territory and waters.

The line loops far south from China and includes most of the South China Sea, but the claim is not recognized internationally. Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have rival claims in the South China Sea.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters Widodo had asked Japan to invest in fisheries, energy and tourism in Natuna. “We also agreed to strengthen coast guard coordination,” she said.

Indonesia had stepped up air and sea patrols in the area and summoned the PRC’s ambassador over the appearance of the ships. An Indonesian military spokesman said the vessels left the area after Widodo’s trip. 

Japan in 2019 gave Indonesia 100 billion rupiah (U.S. $7.26 million) to build a fish market in Natuna, which will be named Tsukiji after the famous Tokyo market.

Construction of the market in Natuna and markets on other Indonesian islands will begin in 2020, Motegi said.  Reuters

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