Indonesia adds patrols after detecting ships in South China Sea

Jakarta deploys five navy vessels, assisted by an air patrol in North Natuna Sea after Chinese and US vessels were detected in nearby international waters.

An Indonesian Airforce's F-16 Jet Fighter flies over Indonesian navy warship during an operation in Natuna islands, in the South China Sea in January 2020 [File: M Risyal Hidayat/Antara via Reuters]

Indonesia’s navy has increased patrols around its Natuna islands in the South China Sea after Chinese and US vessels were detected nearby in international waters, despite saying there the vessels had not caused any disturbance, a navy official said.

Five navy vessels, assisted by an air patrol, have been deployed in North Natuna Sea to secure the area, Indonesian Navy western fleet commander Arsyad Abdullah told reporters on Thursday.

“The Navy’s position on the North Natuna Sea is very firm in protecting national interests within the Indonesian jurisdiction in accordance with national law and international law that have been ratified so that there is no tolerance for any violations in the North Natuna Sea,” Arsyad said.

In 2017, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea, as part of a push back against China’s maritime territorial ambitions.

Arsyad said US and Chinese navy ships have been detected nearby recently but said they were not a disturbance, adding that they were still in international waters.

A weeks-long standoff in Natuna occurred early January last year when a Chinese coast guard vessel and accompanying fishing boats entered the northern Natuna Sea, prompting Indonesia to send fighter jets and mobilise its own fishermen.

“There is no bargaining when it comes to our sovereignty, our country’s territorial,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared following the incident.

In 2016, an Indonesian naval vessel also fired on a Chinese fishing boat accused of illegal fishing near Natuna, following a series of confrontations that year.

That same year Indonesia also destroyed 23 foreign fishing boats from Malaysia and Vietnam accused of illegal fishing in Indonesian waters.

Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said her agency sank 10 Malaysian and 13 Vietnamese boats that were caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.

China has not claimed the Natuna islands but says it has nearby fishing rights within a self-proclaimed “nine-dash line” that includes most of the energy-rich South China Sea.

That claim is disputed by some Southeast Asian countries and not recognised internationally by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters