The next South China Sea crisis: China vs. Indonesia?

(From the National Interest)

By Lachlan Wilson

Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s strategy for reinforcing state sovereignty and strengthening maritime integrity is being tested with the latest incursion by Chinese fishing boats into Indonesian waters off the Natuna islands. Indonesian Minister for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Susi Pudjiastuti’s public criticism of China’s activities is the first step in what’s likely to become a series of reluctantly enacted but necessary responses from Jokowi’s administration—unlike in the past, Indonesia can’t afford to do otherwise.

Indonesia has sunk illegal fishing boats, including those from China

Indonesia has sunk illegal fishing boats, including those from China.

This isn’t the first time Indonesia has had to contend with Chinese assertivenessin the South China Sea. Over the last four years, Jakarta’s attempts to enforce its fisheries’ laws by arresting Chinese fishermen operating illegally in Indonesia’s EEZ has led to a series of confrontations between the Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement Command and Indonesian law enforcement vessels. Traditionally, Indonesia’s foreign ministry has tried to dismiss those engagements as minor in order to maintain its relationship with China.

While such events aren’t related to sovereignty disputes over the Natuna Islands (which China has stated it doesn’t claim), the EEZ created by the islands overlaps with China’s nine-dash line. Previously, the Indonesian foreign ministry has demanded clarification of the legality of the nine-dash line but has received no response. Pudjiastuti’s summoning of China’s ambassador to Indonesia, Xie Feng, on the March 21 to discuss China’s latest claim that its fisherman were within ‘traditional Chinese fishing grounds’ is also unlikely to clarify the matter. Rather, it’s apparent that the recent incursion by China into Indonesia’s waters is an intentional challenge to Jakarta’s resolve. Read more



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