Daily Management Review

Its South China Sea Territory Being Protected By Indonesia From 'Foreign' Threats


Its South China Sea Territory Being Protected By Indonesia From 'Foreign' Threats
In a perceived act against Chinese encroachment, its maritime rights within the disputed South China are being defended by Southeast Asia's largest economy.
Indonesia has never been a player in the long-simmering conflict that's weighed on intra-Asian relations even though the country has long maintained an exclusive economic zone in waters claimed by Beijing. Sovereign rights over parts of the South China Sea, which is rich in resources and boasts key maritime routes are asserted by several countries including China, Vietnam, the Philippines Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
And as Beijing expands its footprint in the area, Jakarta's heightened commitment to safeguarding its boundary has been revealed by recent actions.
Home to significant oil and gas activity, the northern side of its economic zone was renamed as the North Natuna Sea by President Joko Widodo's administration on very recently. And in order to provide land and maritime security for resource exploration activities, a memorandum of understanding was signed Indonesia’s the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and its m military on that same day.
The Jakarta Post quoted General Gatot Nurmantyo as saying that offshore drilling activities were often disturbed by "foreign-flagged vessels," while justifying the move.
Those foreign ships are widely believed to be Chinese.
"This is almost certainly aimed at protecting Indonesia's sovereign rights in the vicinity of the Natunas from encroachments by China, though of course Jakarta would never name and shame China publicly," said Ian Storey, senior fellow at Singapore-based think tank ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
"As China's navy grows stronger, and its large fishing fleets move further south in search of lucrative fish stocks, Jakarta's concerns have grown, as well as its determination to safeguard its maritime resources."
Storey added that reassuring oil and gas companies operating in Indonesia's offshore energy fields was the specific aim of Friday's news.
A deep track record of disruptive behavior in the South China Sea rests with China, the world's second-largest economy.
In 2014, the Chinese deployed an oil rig into water claimed by Vietnam and Beijing has constructed artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
"The Chinese have also disrupted Indonesia's fishery law enforcement operations," said Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at Nanyang Technological University's maritime security program.
A 24 percent chance of militarized disputes between Indonesia and China in the next 12 months is forecast by risk analytics firm Verisk Maplecroft.
However, Jakarta's sole concern may not br Beijing.
"Friday's MOU is a general precaution against any potential foreign interference into Indonesia's oil and gas activities, not necessarily just China," Lean continued.
"Indonesia also has maritime boundary disputes with other ASEAN countries, such as Vietnam. In the Celebes Sea, Indonesia still has an unresolved dispute with Malaysia over the Ambalat hydrocarbon block — the scene of several naval standoffs in 2002 and 2009."
Similar bold maneuvers from the Philippines and Vietnam preceded Jakarta's intensified defense in the South China Sea.
After a three-year suspension, oil and gas drilling in the Reed Bank, also located in China-claimed waters, could be resumed by Vietnam, Manila suggested last week.
Meanwhile, drilling for gas near the disputed Paracel Islands, which Hanoi and Beijing both say belong to them, have recently been initiated by a joint venture led by Vietnam's state-owned energy firm PetroVietnam.