Indonesia needs more than a military strategy for the Natuna
JAKARTA, October 25 (The Straits Times / ANN): A photo of Indonesian President Joko Widodo wearing a bomber jacket and standing next to a warship cannon has become famous in recent years. It has been used in numerous media headlines and news articles, and even featured on the cover of an academic book that examines Indonesian nationalism and sovereignty.
The photo was taken in late 2016. The president then led a small-scale cabinet meeting on a warship that was sailing in the northern Natuna Sea, after a Chinese fishing vessel illegally entered the sea. Indonesian exclusive economic zone (EEZ). He sought to send a message that Jakarta will take seriously any violation of Indonesian sovereign rights.
Five years later, however, the power of the bomber jacket image seems to have died down.
Indonesia still faces the same problem of the Chinese Coast Guard and even the People’s Liberation Army Navy escorting Chinese fishing vessels or survey vessels in the Indonesian EEZ.
The image did a good enough job of flaunting nationalism to appease Indonesian citizens, but it failed to dissuade Beijing from sending its ships into Indonesia’s EEZ.
Indeed, the North Sea Natuna is quite a complex issue for Indonesia. Even though Indonesia has no pending delineation with China, Indonesia is often forced to act due to China’s illegal claim by the nine-dash line on the South China Sea straddling Indonesia’s EEZ. .
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), Indonesia has the sovereign right to explore and exploit the natural resources of its EEZ and continental shelf. Article 73 of the Unclos also gives Indonesia the power to apply its national laws and regulations to foreign vessels that illegally fish in the Indonesian EEZ without Indonesia’s consent.
Therefore, after such incidents, Indonesia always sent more Coast Guard or even Navy warships to patrol the northern Natuna Sea. However, patrols cannot be in the area all year round. Budgetary issues appear to be the main obstacle preventing a sustained military presence in the northern Natuna Sea.
To deter Beijing from illegally fishing and surveying in Indonesia’s EEZ, Jakarta must go beyond a military strategy in the northern Natuna Sea. The use of a civilian presence to use all the natural resources of the region is of fundamental importance. The North Sea Natuna and the Natuna Islands are rich in natural resources such as fishing, and high mining potential.
First, Indonesia must increase the presence of its fishing vessels in North Natuna. However, most of the Indonesian local fishermen in Natuna are mostly small-scale operators; sailing up to 200 nautical miles in the exclusive economic zone remains a challenge.
To its credit, Indonesia tried to send a larger fishing vessel from Java to catch fish in the northern Natuna Sea. However, it appears the plan created friction with the local fisherman in Natuna. Therefore, it would be better for the government to support and equip local fishermen in Natuna with larger vessels for use in the EEZ.
Fishing and tourism
To increase its activities in Natuna, Indonesia must also begin to develop the fishing industry there. The government should consider supporting local fishermen to expand overseas markets. Modern industries with more advanced technology will increase the region’s export capacity and create jobs for the local population.
Second, Indonesia should consider harnessing the region’s enormous potential for marine tourism, given its beautiful beaches and natural landscape.
Under the leadership of Minister of Tourism and Creative Industries Sandiaga Uno, Indonesia is trying to revive the tourism sector affected by the pandemic.
The government has repeatedly emphasized the tourist potential of the Natunas. But the region’s infrastructure is lagging behind. The same goes for the number of flights, hotels and other forms of entertainment on the island.
As the saying goes, once you build it, they will come. Indonesia needs to build an appropriate tourism infrastructure before promoting Natunas in local and international tourism markets. This could involve bringing in private sector investors, whether from Indonesia or elsewhere.
Third, Indonesia must increase its marine scientific research activities in the northern Natuna Sea. It is indisputable that the area is Indonesia’s EEZ, but evidence of consistent use and exploitation of the area’s resources will serve to deter Chinese incursions into the region.
Last month, for example, Chinese Haiyang Dizhi Shihao 10 entered Indonesia’s EEZ and conducted marine scientific investigation or research without Indonesia’s consent. Before such incidents happen again, Indonesia should conduct more scientific research in the North Natuna Sea.
The infrastructure for such activity already exists, in the form of the newly created National Research and Innovation Agency. Conducting more marine scientific research in the region will help Indonesia discover the vast potential of marine resources and other biodiversity in the region.
Finally, the North Natuna Sea continental shelf should also be explored and exploited, beyond the prescribed EEZ of 200 nautical miles. In 2016, the Department of Energy and Minerals announced it would increase exploration and mining on the continental shelf. The increased use of Indonesian resources on the continental shelf will also lead to a greater civilian presence in the region.
A military and diplomatic strategy on its own to respond to any provocation and escalation from Beijing in the northern Natuna Sea is not enough.
Indonesia must implement its Integrated Ocean Policy and build the necessary infrastructure to increase economic activity and presence in the region.
A strong civilian presence in the region will serve to deter further Chinese incursions into the region and reinforce the fact that the region is to be exploited by Indonesia.
* Aristyo Rizka Darmawan is Senior Lecturer in International Law at the University of Indonesia and Young Leader at the Pacific Forum Foreign Policy Research Institute, based in Honolulu. This article first appeared in Fulcrum, the commentary and analysis site of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.