For the second time in a matter of months, China has protested Indonesia’s seizure of a boat and the detention of its Chinese crew for what Jakarta claims is illegal fishing off its Natuna Islands waters.
- The Chinese vessel Gui Bei Yu was seized last Friday with eight crew
- Indonesia’s navy tells news agency that shots were fired that hit the Chinese vessel in the intercept
- China says the vessel was carrying out normal activities in fishing grounds it claims
The Indonesian military said it detained the Chinese vessel Gui Bei Yu last Friday after it entered Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in seas off the resource-rich Natuna Islands archipelago, on the north-west coast of Borneo.
The navy’s western fleet command spokesman, Major Budi Amin, told the Associated Press news agency the Indonesian frigate Oswald Siahaan fired shots which hit the stern of the fishing vessel after it ignored repeated warnings to stop. He said no-one was injured.
Channel News Asia, quoting Indonesian military spokesman Major Josdy Damopoli in local media reports, said that the Chinese coastguard stood by as Indonesian officials boarded the fishing vessel to apprehend the vessel’s crew.
Eight people were reportedly apprehended in the incident.
“That ship is strongly suspected to have stolen fish in Indonesian territory,” said Rear Admiral A Taufiq R, adding that the types of fish aboard matched those commonly found in its surrounding waters.
In a statement, the Indonesian navy commander said the seizure was intended as a “notice to the world” and the boat was stopped to show it will act firmly against violations of its jurisdiction.
China has lodged “stern representations” with Indonesia in response, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing on Monday.
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.
“China and Indonesia have a different point of view about the waters where the incident happened,” she said.
“A Chinese fishing boat was carrying out normal production activities there.”
Jakarta is not a claimant in the disputes over the South China Sea, but it has objected to China’s inclusion of parts of the Indonesian-ruled Natuna Islands within a “nine-dash line” that Beijing marks on maps to show its claim on the waterway.
China has said it does not dispute Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, but claims nearby waters as part of its traditional fishing grounds. Indonesia says the waters are in its exclusive economic zone.
The latest row follows a confrontation between the two countries in the same waters in March when a Chinese coastguard vessel rammed a Chinese fishing vessel to release it after it had been seized by Indonesian authorities.