Southeast Asia’s largest economy is defending its maritime rights within the disputed South China Sea in a perceived act against Chinese encroachment.
Indonesia has long maintained an exclusive economic zone in waters claimed by Beijing, but unlike many of its neighbors, it’s never been a player in the long-simmering conflict that’s weighed on intra-Asian relations. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all assert sovereign rights over parts of the South China Sea, which is rich in resources and boasts key maritime routes.
Recent actions revealed Jakarta’s heightened commitment to safeguarding its boundary as Beijing expands its footprint in the area.
On Friday, President Joko Widodo’s administration renamed the northern side of its economic zone, home to significant oil and gas activity, as the North Natuna Sea. That same day, Indonesia’s military signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources to provide land and maritime security for resource exploration activities.
Justifying the move, General Gatot Nurmantyo said offshore drilling activities were often disturbed by “foreign-flagged vessels,” The Jakarta Post quoted him as saying.
Those foreign ships are widely believed to be Chinese.
“This is almost certainly aimed at protecting Indonesia’s sovereign rights in the vicinity of the Natunas from encroachments by China, though of course Jakarta would never name and shame China publicly,” said Ian Storey, senior fellow at Singapore-based think tank ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
“As China’s navy grows stronger, and its large fishing fleets move further south in search of lucrative fish stocks, Jakarta’s concerns have grown, as well as its determination to safeguard its maritime resources.”