Indonesia has opened a military base on the southern edge of the South China Sea, in territorial waters claimed by China and several other countries.
The base was opened Dec. 18 on the remote island of Natuna Besar, part of the Natuna Islands—one of Indonesia’s northernmost areas, located between the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo.
Indonesian Defense Force chief, Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, said in a speech at the military base that the outpost is to act as a deterrent against any potential security threats, particularly at the border areas, Kyodo News reported.
Indonesia does not accept Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea which include part of the resource-rich waters surrounding the islands.
The waters off the Natuna Islands is home to fishing and natural gas reserves, which Indonesia says it owns.
The two countries have had minor skirmishes in the area over the years, including three incidents in 2016 where Chinese fishing boats were caught by Indonesian patrol boats for illegally fishing within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Natuna Sea.
In one case, Indonesian authorities detained a 300-ton Chinese fishing vessel. But it was released hours later when a Chinese coast guard vessel rammed the boat, forcing it free. At that time, Beijing said the fishermen were engaging in “normal activities” in “traditional Chinese fishing grounds.”
Indonesian president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said on Dec. 19 that the country would defend its sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, an area home to almost 170,000 Indonesians.
“If you want us to fight, together we will do it,” he said.
The base currently stations a few hundred military personnel, and will be equipped with a surface-to-air missile defense system, the Indonesian military said, according to Benar News.