Indonesia’s South China Sea turn, Abe and Modi diverge


This is a weekly blog by Associate Editor Ravi Velloor offering his take on events around Asia and those that affect the region. It is exclusive to The Straits Times digital edition.
So, Indonesia will henceforth refer to the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea.

Talk of well, a sea-change in attitudes in Jakarta on the dispute that has roiled the region for the past five years!

In January last year, at a closed door session in a South-east Asian nation organised by a European think-tank, the South China Sea situation figured prominently in some panels. A top Indonesian diplomat insisted that his country was not a party to the dispute, and that China had assured Jakarta it had no overlapping claims with it.

When another delegate intervened to say that senior Chinese military officials state their belief that 50,000 sq km of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone belongs to China it was met with incredulity.

A few months later, Indonesia willy-nilly had to acknowledge it had a problem when the Chinese coast guard intervened to free a poaching vessel within Indonesia’s territorial waters while it was being towed towards shore. Since the ship had been seized in Indonesia’s EEZ, there was little question what the Chinese action meant.

It is clear that archipelagic Indonesia has been doing some serious reflection about the South China Sea situation and its implications for its own strategic calculations.