Indonesians appear convinced that China’s challenge over their gas-rich Natuna Islands represented an urgent national security threat, according to a recent study.
Jakarta has pushed back against Chinese claims that waters surrounding the islands are part of its traditional fishing grounds, in a shift in position driven by an increase in Chinese incursions around the resource-rich area.
Media research showed that “Jakarta had successfully convinced the Indonesian people that the Chinese aspirations in the NI (Natuna Islands) waters represented an urgent national security threat, i.e., Jakarta had successfully securitized the NI issue,” Patrik Meyer, a visiting professor at Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, who conducted the study, told a seminar in Washington on Monday.
He said that the Indonesian government’s discussions and policies around the Natuna islands went from being exclusively a cultural issue to one of urgent national security in the past three years.
“It was successful. People discussed the Natuna islands as a national security issue,” he told participants of the seminar “Escalating Tensions in the South China Sea: Will Indonesia Fight Back?” organized by New America, a U.S.-think tank.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and his officials have framed the Natuna islands, an archipelago at the far southern end of the disputed South China Sea (SCS), as a security threat posed by China’s efforts to exert fishing rights around the islands.
Beijing’s claims overlap Indonesia’s 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone around the Natunas.
“Indonesia finds itself cornered by the actions of the giant in the region,” Meyer said, adding that his study of Facebook and Twitter keywords showed that Jakarta had waged a successful media campaign following a spate of face-offs in 2016 between its navy and Chinese fishing boats off the Natuna Islands.
In a report published earlier this year, “Indonesia’s Swift Securitization of China’s Claims in the Natuna Islands,” Meyer said “Beijing’s assertiveness has woken up a dormant conflict with Jakarta, its closest ally in the region, over the sovereignty of the Natuna islands territorial waters that now threatens to erupt into an outright military confrontation.”