Indonesia stands up to PRC’s aggressive moves in South China Sea

Indonesia stands up to PRC’s aggressive moves in South China Sea

Gusty Da Costa

Indonesia has successfully defended its sovereignty off the northwest coast of the island of Borneo by standing up to aggressive incursions by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which maintains that its widely dismissed territorial claim in the South China Sea gives it authority to enter the area unimpeded.

The area of the South China Sea, which Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea, is in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The nation showed its resolve by deploying Coast Guard vessels and through diplomatic channels, analysts and lawmakers say.

Beijing challenged Jakarta’s sovereignty in the North Natuna Sea with a series of moves in 2021, according to the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), an advocacy group. These included a Chinese coast guard vessel harassing an Indonesian drilling project in June, a PRC survey ship operating illegally in Indonesia’s EEZ in September and October, and Beijing attempting to order Indonesia to halt oil and gas drilling in the area.

Indonesia deployed a Coast Guard vessel to shadow the PRC coast guard boat and other Chinese vessels for months until they left the EEZ, IOJI spokesman Jeremia Humolong Prasetya told FORUM. He added that a PRC coast guard vessel escorted a Chinese survey ship on a geological exploration in Indonesia’s EEZ in September 2021, a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The survey vessel left briefly, then returned in October before leaving again. It has not returned.

“We advocate soft diplomacy by showing the presence of law enforcement elements in the sea,” Indonesian Coast Guard Col. Wisnu Pramandita told FORUM. Foreign-flagged ships are notified that they are in Indonesian waters and should be cautious. Most PRC vessels pass through without incident, he said, adding: “There will be no more Chinese survey ships.”

Abdul Kadir Jailani, director general of Asia Pacific and Africa at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, told FORUM that the government responded to Beijing’s call to stop drilling by continuing to do so. “At the time we continued the exploration and we succeeded in completing the exploration,” he said, dismissing Beijing’s claim that the drilling site is in its territory.

The PRC claims much of the South China Sea under its nine-dash line, an arbitrary demarcation that was rejected as having no legal basis by an international tribunal in 2016.

“We never have negotiations about nine-dash lines. The claim of nine-dash lines is not in line” with UNCLOS, Jailani said.

“The area is a legitimate EEZ of Indonesia,” Arwani Thomafi, a member of parliament for Indonesia’s United Development Party, told FORUM. “Specifically, the government has to explore oil and gas there, make use of fish resources there, etc., to demonstrate sovereignty enforcement and sovereignty rights in North Natuna water.”

He added that diplomatic efforts to resolve EEZ issues are ongoing among Indonesia and neighboring countries.

Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor reporting from Indonesia.