On Monday, March 21, 2016, the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi, called the Charge d'Affaires of Chinese Embassy, Sun Wei Dei, protesting him for China aggressive violation on Indonesian right over their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around Natuna islands. She put stress, in addition, that Indonesia is not among the claimant countries over the South China Sea (SCS) so it is inappropriate for China to launch such aggressive action.
The incident which took place on Saturday, March 19, 2016 happened when Kway Fey 10078, Chinese fishing ship, ran around and collided in purpose the Indonesian coast guard KP Hiu 11 that pursued it. Three Indonesian officials jumped and took over the Chinese boat transferring the Chinese crew into KP Hiu and guarded Kway Fey towards Natuna nearest base. On the way back just about entering into Indonesian territorial sea, a Chinese coast guard ship that silently pursued them unexpectedly collided and immobilized Kway Fey. Anticipating an aggravated situation, the three Indonesian officials jumped back to KP Hiu abandoning Kway Fey which was then tugged away by Chinese coast guard ship to their nearest base in SCS. KP Hiu 11, however, kept arresting Chinese crew and brought them to Tiga Natuna island base waiting for a legal process.
The incident showed that China never recognizes Indonesian EEZ in the Natuna Sea. Chinese Charge d'Affaires clearly and openly stated that the fishing boat was operating in Chinese traditional fishing ground, not in Indonesia water. It is now clear for Indonesia that the issue is not merely on illegal fishing but far more seriously than that i.e. a maritime boundary dispute.
The lesson never learned. Indonesia is always naive when facing a dispute such as in continental shelf or EEZ boundaries issue. Indonesia had a bad experience with Malaysia in Sipadan dispute because of its naivety. Now, when we have a maritime incident with China in Natuna Sea EEZ, again we cannot see what the bottom line is. Apart from several Indonesian ministerial protests put forward to the Chinese Embassy, the Indonesian Foreign Minister seemed satisfying herself by stating the China recognition over Indonesian sovereignty on the Natuna Islands and the right over their sea water. The minister failed, however, to notice that China only stated their recognition on Natuna sea water and never mentioned about Indonesian EEZ.
If we look at the SCS map, it is obvious that China never challenges and claims Indonesia sovereignty upon the Natuna Islands. The Chinese nine-dash lines were clearly drawn crossing towards inside of our EEZ/Continental Shelf in the up north of Natuna Islands. Indonesia gains nothing on China recognition on Indonesian sovereignty over Natuna islands as the Chinese nine-dash line already show it. China indeed recognizes the Natuna island as Indonesian territory and its sea water but it doesn’t mean that it recognizes the whole Natuna EEZ area. There is an obvious overlap between Chinese dash lines and our EEZ in the up north (see the strip lines on the map). Behaving like an ostrich, Indonesia pretends as though Chinese nine-dash lines will never pose any threat to Indonesia. As a non-claimant country, Indonesia believes that the Chinese side will do similarly.
Now it is time for Indonesia to explicitly refuse recognizing China nine-dash lines that cross the Indonesian EEZ/Continental Shelf or elsewhere they are very remote from China mainland giving almost no room for their adversary countries to have their own EEZ. From the beginning Indonesia should judge this as Chinese injustice arrogance towards the international community especially its SCS neighboring countries, ignoring the basic principles of UNCLOS 1982.
Indonesia should immediately withdraw its naïve role as a mediator, behaving like a good kid in the block dreaming that Beijing will be sincere towards Jakarta. China may be stunned or even mocked about Indonesian naivety as being itself a target but behaves as though nothing harmful will happen to Indonesia. Sooner or later Beijing will show its true determinism in imposing the whole nine-dash lines into effect including the section that crossing Indonesian EEZ/Continental Shelf.
And the time now comes when Natuna incident emerged to the surface. China openly claimed that its fishing boat was operating in its traditional fishing ground. This is nothing but China open declaration that Indonesian EEZ around the Natuna Islands simply doesn’t exist. It claims that what Indonesia considers as its EEZ in Natuna sea covers what China considers as its traditional fishing ground in which the Chinese dash lines is the boundary.
Indonesia should be strong in maintaining the integrity of its EEZ as well as its Continental Shelf. Beneath Natuna water where Indonesian EEZ is located, there is abundantly oil and gas accumulations. For many decades Indonesia has developed most of that hydrocarbon fields but no single claim was heard from China on those resources. If China doesn’t recognize Indonesian EEZ around Natuna sea then sometime in the future when it feels strong enough with its military base in SCS it may also challenge the Indonesian Continental Shelf in the very same area.
Indonesian Foreign Affair Minister should be aware that the bottom line of the problem is not China recognition on Indonesian right over Natuna sea water but the explicit recognition of Indonesian EEZ and Continental Shelf both de facto and de jure. Observing China aggressiveness in imposing its nine-dash lines into effect, it is no doubt that the only language it speaks and understands to resolve the SCS dispute is power.
Indonesia is not alone in facing head to head against China. If Indonesia likes to maintain its right in Natuna EEZ, there is no choice but to speak on the same language as China does. Indonesia should prioritize to strengthen its fleet in Natuna islands by increasing the number and capacity of coast guard ships as well as Navy warships. A strategic naval base should be built in the Natuna Islands not only to chase and intercept the illegal fishing boats but also to confront the danger from the north which now becomes real.