Chinese prospecting vessel lingering in Indonesian EEZ poses dilemma for Jakarta – benarnews
Three weeks ago, a Chinese investigative vessel uninvitedly sailed into Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. He began to ply a small portion of the northern Natuna Sea following a lawn mowing pattern typical of maritime survey vessels. He stayed there on Tuesday, amid unanswered questions about exactly what he is doing there.
Indonesian authorities have deployed several warships to the area but have nonetheless minimized the presence of China’s 3,400-ton vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 10. They face a dilemma that has become familiar to maritime governments in Southeast Asia. : how to answer them Affirmation by China of its vast claims in the South China Sea.
“This is exactly the same playbook that we saw Beijing use against Vietnam in late 2019 and Malaysia in early 2020,” said Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, referring to past incidents in which Chinese investigative vessels haunted the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) of neighboring countries, where oil and gas exploration was underway.
A Vietnamese researcher has been monitoring the Haiyang Dizhi 10 since day one.
Duan Dang told BenarNews he spotted the Chinese ship approaching the Vietnamese EEZ on August 29 near a facility in the Dai Nguyet oil field.
“But in the morning [of Aug. 31, its AIS [automatic identification system] the signals showed that the Haiyang Dizhi 10 was moving slowly south in Indonesian waters and entered the Tuna block, near where the Noble Clyde Boudreaux platform was located, ”he said .
The rig was tasked with drilling two wells until mid-November, according to energy industry sources.
“At one point it was only 10 nautical miles from the platform,” said Duan.
It has started to update the Chinese ship’s operations in the area almost daily, which is in Indonesia’s EEZ but straddles the so-called “nine-dash line” that China is drawing to claim most of the Sea. Southern China. These Chinese claims are contested by several neighboring countries and not recognized by international law.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) requires governments to apply in advance for authorization for marine scientific research in another state’s EEZ, a requirement that China often ignores.
Media and public attention to the reported presence of Haiyang Dizhi ships and Chinese Coast Guard in the northern Natuna Sea has led Indonesia to send warships to the area. A naval air patrol was also carried out.
Chinese geological survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 10 is seen during a visit to Pakistan in 2019 for hydrocarbon research and geological mapping. [Photo courtesy Pakistan Navy]
Lawn mowing pattern
However, when asked, a spokesperson for the Indonesian Maritime Safety Agency, also known as Bakamla, dismissed concerns about the Haiyang Dizhi, saying that “there had been no violation of navigation rules “.
“It was probably a normal passage,” said Wisnu Pramandita.
Analysts say the movement of the Chinese grid ship shows that it is clearly engaged in research activities.
HI Sutton, a well-known defense analyst, said the Haiyang Dizhi 10 “appears to be carrying out a detailed study of the seabed”.
“Based on the data we’ve seen, it could be a seismic study that uses special sonar to see under the seabed. The most likely use would be linked to the exploitation of hydrocarbons, ”he told BenarNews.
Tuna Block, where Haiyang Dizhi operates, is a major oil and gas field. The British company Harbor Energy and its partner, the Russian Zarubezhneft, are drilling two evaluation wells there using the semi-submersible Noble Clyde Boudreaux platform, according to the publication Energy Voice and the Russian news agency Interfax.
The area is approximately 90 nautical miles north of the Natuna Islands in Indonesia. The Indonesian government granted Premier Oil, which merged with Harbor Energy Plc earlier this year, the right to explore the block in 2007. The Russian operator joined exploration earlier this year.
The tuna has reserves estimated at 100 million barrels of oil, Zarubezhneft officials told Russian news agency Interfax in June.
According to AMTI’s Poling, China is following a manual to challenge exploration for resources in disputed waters it considers to be under its jurisdiction.
“First of all, the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) is harassing foreign oil and gas operations in the hope of forcing the neighboring state to stop the work. Then, if that fails, China deploys a state-owned CCG-protected investigative vessel and militia boats to conduct an illegal investigation itself in the waters of the offending state, ”he said. he declares.
“In this case, it’s particularly overwhelming because the Haiyang Dizhi 10 paced to the edge of the nine-dash line, but not beyond. This clearly shows that Beijing continues to view the line as a kind of national border, ”Poling said.
Sutton, the defense analyst, agreed.
“Countries will understandably be concerned about the level and locations of Chinese investigative efforts, as these investigations tend to adhere to the theoretical nine-dash line that roughly describes China’s land claim over almost the entire Sea of Southern China, ”he said.
“The historic rights of China”
But not all researchers see it that way.
Mark Hoskin, independent researcher and lecturer on China’s maritime history and law, said official protests against claiming China’s historic rights were rare before this century.
“Although investigations of this nature may be considered an inconvenience by the coastal state, if they are carried out in areas which are not militarily sensitive, the benefits to the coastal state outweigh the perceived costs,” he maintained.
He said that in the case of the Philippines, such investigations have led to joint development projects, “in which China has the most practical experience of any state in the region.”
Vietnam, another South China Sea claimant and perhaps the country under the greatest pressure from China to cease oil exploration off its south coast, does not seem enthusiastic about Beijing’s joint development suggestions.
In 2019, while the Haiyang Dizhi 8 operated inside Vietnam’s EEZ for three months, Hanoi repeatedly denounced what it called a “violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and jurisdiction” and demanded that China withdraw its fact-finding vessel, which it ultimately did, claiming its fact-finding mission was completed.
But Indonesia’s reaction now, and Malaysia’s reaction a year earlier when Chinese Haiyang Dizhi 8 operated in Malaysian waters for a whole month until a drilling vessel contracted with Malaysia left the area, was much more moderate.
Despite public pressure to defend national interests, the Indonesian government has yet to release an official response and regional experts say Jakarta appears to favor a diplomatic approach to the issue.
It comes down to political decisions by coastal states, Hoskin argued.
“In the past, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the United States surveyed without interference in these same waters. [in the South China Sea]. The protests against the vessels of the PRC (China) carrying out such activities are only political in nature and do not constitute a reasoned approach to scientific exploration of the seas, ”he said.
Largest survey fleet
According to Sutton, however, Chinese investigative vessels would still be viewed with suspicion, “as carrying out investigations for reasons not in the interest of other countries.”
An AMTI report in 2020 suggests that maritime research can serve both civilian and military purposes.
“Oceanographic data is crucial for underwater operations … Research vessels allegedly involved in scientific research can also use their instruments for naval reconnaissance, intelligence gathering on foreign military installations and vessels,” he said. -he declares.
China operates by far the largest fleet of government research vessels in the region.
According to the International Maritime Organization database, there are 64 registered Chinese survey vessels built in 1990 or later, surpassing 44 from the United States and 23 from Japan.
In 2019-2020, China deployed 25 government ships in waters beyond its recognized national jurisdiction in the Indo-Pacific, compared to 10 from the United States, according to AMTI.
On Tuesday morning, another large Chinese investigative vessel – the 5,600 ton Dai Yang Yi Hao – was spotted near Fiery Cross Reef, a feature of the Spratly Islands, which is under Chinese control but also claimed by Taiwan. , Vietnam and the Philippines.
Vietnamese ship observer Duan Dang told Radio Free Asia, a sister entity of BenarNews, that he was following her with interest.