Indonesia’s Foreign Minister has rejected China’s stance that the two Asian nations have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, where there has been a run of skirmishes between Indonesian navy ships and Chinese vessels.
- Indonesia’s Natuna Islands’ nearby seas are causing a dispute with China
- China, Indonesia have conflicting reports of Chinese vessel interception on Friday
- Chinese state media says disputed Spratly Islands to host tourists by 2020
Indonesia is not part of a broader regional dispute over China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea and Beijing’s claims on swathes of key waterways.
On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry said the two nations do not have any territorial disputes, but there were some overlapping claims on “maritime rights and interests”.
But Jakarta has objected to China’s inclusion of waters around the Indonesian-ruled Natuna Islands within a “nine-dash line” Beijing marks on maps to show its claim on the body of water.
“Our position is clear that claims can only be made on the basis of international law. For Indonesia, we don’t have overlapping claims in any form in Indonesian waters with China,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters.
China’s Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that an Indonesian naval vessel fired on a Chinese fishing boat near the chain of islands on Friday, injuring one person.
Indonesia’s navy responded that it had fired warning shots at several boats with Chinese flags it accused of fishing illegally, but there were no injuries.
It was the third reported confrontation near the Natuna Islands this year, and comes amid rising regional tensions over China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said on Monday that the nation would be more assertive in protecting its exclusive right to the waters around the Natuna Islands.
Despite this more assertive stance, Ms Retno said relations between the two countries remained good.
“This is a matter of law enforcement, not politics,” she said.
Many fishermen on the Natuna Islands use traditional methods to secure their catch. (ABC News: Samantha Hawley)
China to open Spratlys to tourism
Meanwhile, state media’s China Daily said on Wednesday that cruise ships will regularly bring tourists to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea by 2020, as tensions mount in the contested region.
Beijing asserts its sovereignty over almost all of the strategically vital South China Sea despite rival claims from its neighbours, and has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
Chinese companies already operate cruises for Chinese nationals only to the Paracel Islands.
A new proposal seeks to develop routes to the Spratlys, much further south, said the China Daily.
Vietnam, China, Malaysia have eyes on the prize
Explore the conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea
|Rich in resources and traversed by a quarter of global shipping, the South China Sea is the stage for several territorial disputes that threaten to escalate tensions in the region.
At the heart of these disputes are a series of barren islands in two groups – the Spratly Islands, off the coast of the Philippines, and the Paracel Islands, off the coasts of Vietnam and China.
|Both chains are essentially uninhabitable, but are claimed by no fewer than seven countries, eager to gain control of the vast oil and gas fields below them, as well as some of the region’s best fishing grounds.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have made claims to part of the Spratlys based on the internationally recognised Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which extends 200 hundred nautical miles from a country’s coastline.
|Based on the EEZ, the Philippines has the strongest claim on the Spratlys and their resources, with its EEZ covering much of the area.
However the lure of resources, and prospect of exerting greater control over shipping in the region, means that greater powers are contesting the Philippines’ claims.
|China has made extensive sovereignty claims on both the Spratlys and the Paracels to the north, based largely on historic claims outlined in a map from the middle part of the 20th Century known as the ‘Nine Dash Map’.
Taiwan also makes claims based on the same map, as it was created by the nationalist Kuomintang government, which fled to Taiwan after the communists seized power in China.
|Vietnam also claims the Spratlys and the Paracels as sovereign territory, extending Vietnam’s EEZ across much of the region and bringing it into direct conflict with China.
There have been deadly protests in Vietnam over China’s decision to build an oil rig off the Paracels.
One Chinese worker in Vietnam was killed and a dozen injured in riots targeting Chinese and Taiwanese owned factories, prompting 3,000 Chinese nationals to flee the country.
|EEZ can only be imposed based on boundaries of inhabitable land, and this has prompted all the countries making claims on the region to station personnel, and in some cases build military bases out of the water, to bolster their claim.
Building and protecting these structures has resulted in a series of stand-offs between countries in the region, each with the potential to escalate.
China has been leading the charge with these installations, and has deployed vessels to the region to protect their interests.
Chinese coast guard vessels have used a water cannon on Vietnamese vessels, as well as blockading an island where the Philippines has deployed military personnel.
It cited a document released by authorities in the southern island province of Hainan, from where the ships will depart.
“The Nansha Islands are virgin territory for China’s tourism industry,” provincial tourism official Sun Xiangtao told the paper, using the Spratlys’ Chinese name.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines all have rival claims over portions of the Spratlys.
Chinese tourists have been allowed to travel to non-militarised areas of the South China Sea since 2013, but foreign passport-holders are not allowed to join the trips.
A previous China Daily report said the Mayor of Sansha city on the Paracels’ Woody Island estimated that some 30,000 people have already visited, and “many people with a patriotic spirit want to try it”.