Countries with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea — including China — should carry out joint “peace patrols” there to reduce the risk of conflict, Indonesia’s defense minister said.
Senior U.S. military officials have recently urged Southeast Asian countries to jointly patrol the waters as it seeks to reassure its allies it will back them against China’s assertions to about four-fifths of the sea. But they haven’t mentioned China as a potential participant.
The proposed patrols would send a message that no single country should “build up strength or threaten anyone” in the waters, minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said in an interview on Saturday on the sidelines of a regional meeting of defense ministers and military chiefs in Singapore.
Parts of the waters are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, the Philippines and Malaysia. Over the last 18 months, China has accelerated reclamation work on reefs, raising alarms regionally and in the U.S., which in turn has stepped up its aerial and sea patrols of the area.
Indonesia has long said it is a neutral party in the disputes, even as waters off its Natuna archipelago — an area rich in natural gas — appear to overlap slightly with China’s claims.