Is Indonesia ready to be a major player in the South China Sea?

(From the National Interest)

By John McBeth

Last Sunday’s incident north of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, in which two armed Chinese coastguard ships forced an Indonesian patrol craft to release an intruding Chinese trawler, shows once again that Jakarta must confront the reality of an overlap between its 200-mile economic zone and China’s “historic” nine-dash line of maritime sovereignty that penetrates deep into the South China Sea.

Indonesian Navy frigate

Indonesian Navy frigate

Indonesia may not be a claimant to the disputed Spratly Islands, but the incident is the first real test of President Joko Widodo’s ambition of turning the country into a maritime power, a policy that necessarily means asserting sovereignty over its vast sea boundaries.

Although it has strongly supported efforts to create a Code of Conduct to head off the danger of open conflict, Indonesia’s approach up to now has seemed strangely adrift at a time when superpower rivalry in the region is heating up.

Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono turned a blind eye to three incidents, two in 2010 and one in 2013, in which Chinese gunboats forced Indonesian fisheries protection craft to release Chinese poachers caught fishing in Natuna waters. Read more



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