Why Did Indonesia Just Rename Its Part of the South China Sea?


On Friday, Indonesia announced that it had renamed a resource-rich northern portion around its Natuna Islands, which lie in the southern end of the South China Sea, as the North Natuna Sea. The move, which was part of the unveiling of an updated national map that was months in the making, reflects the Southeast Asian state’s determination to safeguard its claims even amid the lingering challenges inherent in doing so.

Although Indonesia is not a claimant to the South China Sea disputes strictly speaking, it has nonetheless been an interested party, especially since China’s nine-dash line overlaps with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the resource-rich Natuna Islands.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, Jakarta’s traditional South China Sea position since the 1990s might be best summed up as 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”).