Indonesia’s resource-rich Natuna Islands, located in the South China Sea northwest of Borneo, tend to be subject to periodic hype from the international media. That’s due to a couple of reasons. For one, though Indonesia is not officially a claimant in the South China Sea disputes, China’s nine-dash line overlaps with the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Natunas (See: “Indonesia’s South China Sea Policy: A Delicate Equilibrium”).
Moreover, with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo taking a tougher line on defending Indonesia’s sovereignty and a number of recent run-ins between Indonesian and Chinese vessels near the Natunas this year, the issue has been dominating the headlines (See: “China’s Maritime Confrontation with Indonesia is Not New”). Indeed, Jokowi himself made news in July when he made his first visit to Natuna aboard a warship in a far-from-subtle display of Indonesia’s sovereignty over the area.
But even apart from the China angle that is often hyped up, Indonesia’s commitment to developing the rich resources in the Natunas also makes sense for economic reasons. Focusing on just the energy aspect of this alone (fisheries, too, is a priority) Indonesian government has said that there are seven oil and gas exploitation fields and ten exploration fields there. To get a sense of the potential here, consider the fact that the East Natuna block on its own is said to have over 46 trillion cubic feet of gas, making it Asia’s largest gas reserve.