Indonesia has an overlapping territory issue with China. As the Chinese have claimed the nine-dash line in the South China Sea (SCS) islands, China has repeatedly banned Indonesia from drilling near the South China Sea islands, including Natuna islands. Noting the mineral and natural resources in the SCS, the Chinese have been openly threatening Indonesia’s right and authority in the Natuna. China intentionally wanted to show and reaffirm China’s power and influence to Indonesia regarding ‘who owns’ the SCS. The SCS and Natuna issues are integrated with other issues. Then, what can be done in these situations?
Indonesia has the right to the Natuna Sea; China can not say otherwise.
Indonesia owns the Natuna located in the most northern islands in the SCS, and that is not a part of the SCS territory. The Chinese claimed approximately 83.000 km from an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in Northern Natuna in Indonesia. At the same time, Indonesia has authority over the Natuna waters as part of its territorial integrity. Therefore, Indonesia has every right and opportunity to deploy research and drill in the area without any restriction from any country.
Now, as the Chinese have boldly told Indonesia what to do, Indonesia should not be ‘neutral.’ China has acted as if the North Natuna is also their territory and treated Indonesia as one of the claimant states of SCS. The SCS area is a dynamic territory, and as there is a swift focus on Indo-Pacific. Indonesia needs to strengthen its border security from external threats. One of the threats is the fishing ships sent by China, as the Indonesian coast guard has driven away Chinese 4301 for violating fishing rights.
China has also sent their survey ship, which sailed to Indonesia’s EEZ. The ship named Haiyang Dizhi 10 has been reentered in Tuna Blok in Indonesia’s EEZ for approximately five months since September 2021. The area is a crucial oil and gas field for Indonesia’s exploration, which is needed for Indonesia’s economic income and cooperation. Not only the uninvited ship is a potential threat to Indonesia’s economy, but it is also a threat to Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty and security.
The need for cooperation and a firmer stance on China
Though the uninvited ship is not violated any maritime rules, it has been in and out of Indonesia’s EEZ. Thus it then raises concern on maritime security issues. Christian Bueger (2015) argues that maritime security concepts are related to other vital aspects such as marine environment, economic development, national security, and human security. These aspects are crucial for Indonesia as Indonesia has a vision and prospect for securing the maritime domain and promoting the safety of the waters.
The issue of fishing rights and ‘survey ship’ from China are correlated to all aspects of maritime security. Indonesia responds to the importance of securing its maritime territorial by adding more patrol near SCS. Indonesia increased patrols around the Natuna Islands in the SCS as many foreign vessels had detected. Data and information regarding Indonesia’s maritime conditions, including the freedom and safety for peaceful conduction activities, could be detained by the unnecessary move from other countries.
Indonesia has always been so calm on pressing and firming the official response about China’s acts. Indonesia does not want to risk its risky economic and political relations with China over Natuna issues, though it is also a concerning and crucial issue. At the same time, China will not stop widening its influence and claim in SCS, including Natuna. The advancement of militarisation near SCS has enabled China and other countries to oversee the SCS. The rise of China’s economy and military power will increasingly threaten peace and stability in the South China Sea. The dominance of China has to be countered by Indonesia, not only domestically but also regionally.
Indonesia can not depend on implementing the code of conduct regarding CSC. The unity of ASEAN also seems unfeasible; therefore, Indonesia needs to stress the importance of sovereignty recognition within countries. Indonesia can also develop trilateral cooperation. For example, Indonesia should cooperate with Malaysia and Vietnam or Singapore to support China’s territorial dispute. As a non-claimant state, Singapore will support open and free international waters. Malaysia and Vietnam are also claimant states in SCS, and cooperation for peaceful negotiation is crucial. Indonesia needs to consider cooperating with Australia as a third party or facilitator to maintain the freedom of navigation and peaceful territorial disputes.