Tensions flared between Indonesia and China yesterday (Monday, March 21) following an incident involving a Chinese vessel allegedly fishing illegally close to disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The South-east Asian giant had strong words for China’s envoy in Jakarta, who was summoned to the Foreign Ministry yesterday as Indonesia registered its protest against the actions of China’s coast guard.
Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the Chinese coast guard vessel had breached Indonesia’s sovereign rights when it forcibly prevented the local maritime authorities from detaining the fishing boat near the Natunas at the weekend.
China, however, maintained in a statement to Reuters that the fishing boat was “in traditional Chinese fishing grounds” before it was “attacked and harassed by an armed Indonesian ship”, prompting its coast guard to intervene.
It also demanded the release of the crew of eight Chinese nationals arrested earlier by Indonesia’s maritime task force on the boat.
Indonesia’s Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said the “traditional Chinese fishing grounds” are not recognised under any international treaty or maritime law, and threatened to bring the latest maritime dispute with China to an international court.
“Indonesia has for years been pursuing and promoting peace in the South China Sea, but with yesterday’s incident we feel interrupted and sabotaged in our efforts,” she added.
This latest incident comes amid heightened tensions in the region due to overlapping territorial claims of Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. China claims almost all of the South China Sea.
Indonesia is not a party to the dispute, said Ms Retno, but it has long declined to recognise the “nine- dash line” drawn by Beijing as the basis for its claims in the South China Sea. Both countries, however, had agreed previously that the Natuna Islands and the waters around them are part of Indonesia.
China’s charge d’affaires for trade and acting ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Sun Weide, sought to calm the situation, saying “China is always ready to work with Indonesia to solve these disputes through negotiations and dialogue”.
A similar interference by a Chinese vessel had occurred in 2013. Then, the Chinese patrol boat Nanfeng managed to snatch a Chinese vessel held by Indonesia’s Hiu Macan 01 in waters off the Natunas.
In response to the incident, deputy navy chief Vice-Admiral Arie Henrycus Sembiring said Indonesia would increase the number of vessels monitoring waters at the southern edge of the South China Sea.
This article was first published on March 22, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.