Beijing’s displeasure is all too predictable and far from convincing.
Last week, media outlets began disclosing that China’s Foreign Ministry had sent a note dated August 25 to the Indonesian Embassy in Beijing opposing Jakarta’s decision in July to rename its portion of the South China Sea to the North Natuna Sea. Despite the hype surrounding the note, it represents just the latest sign of China’s well-known and predictable displeasure at Indonesia’s decision to protect its maritime interests lawfully in response to Beijing’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Though Indonesia is technically not a claimant to the South China Sea disputes strictly speaking – a point its diplomats are keen to emphasize – in reality, as I have noted before, it has nonetheless been effectively an interested party, especially since China’s nine-dash line overlaps with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the resource-rich Natuna Islands.
Given the balance that Indonesia has had to walk, the South China Sea position Jakarta has adopted since the 1990s might be best summed up as what I have termed a “delicate equilibrium” – seeking to both engage China diplomatically on the issue and enmeshing Beijing and other actors within regional institutions (a softer edge of its approach, if you will) while at the same time pursuing a range of security, legal, and economic measures designed to protect its own interests (a harder edge) (See: “Indonesia’s South China Sea Policy: A Delicate Equilibrium”).