Protecting Indonesian Sovereignty in the Northern Natuna Sea – The Diplomat
Last week brought news about Chinese ship activity around the Natuna Islands, in particular, the presence of the Chinese destroyer Kunming 172 inside Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). According to local media, Indonesian fishermen reported the presence of the Chinese vessel and other vessels. This came after a Chinese investigative vessel escorted by Chinese Coast Guard vessels was sighted last month sailing the waters of the North Sea of Natuna, the Indonesian government referring to the waters around the islands of Natuna.
As the Chinese investigative vessel continues to hide in the waters around the Natuna Islands, the Indonesian government must respond to the presence of Chinese ships in its 200 nautical mile EEZ by approaching through diplomatic channels and taking other constructive measures to protect the national interests of the country, including the security of Indonesian citizens who carry out economic activities in the Indonesian EEZ.
Around the Natuna Islands, Indonesia has a territorial sea, a contiguous zone and an EEZ in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to the convention, Indonesia has sovereignty only over the waters of the territorial sea and the internal sea which exist between the islands.
Under UNCLOS, the territorial sea extends 12 nautical miles from the coastline, while the additional (contiguous) area extends for an additional 12 nautical miles. The EEZ, on the other hand, extends an additional 176 nautical miles from the edge of the contiguous zone – or 200 nautical miles from the coastline.
These three maritime regimes give Indonesia different rights. In the territorial sea, Indonesia enjoys the same sovereignty as over the islands, with a few exceptions. No foreign vessel is allowed to enter this area without prior notification, and those that do may be prosecuted and arrested by the authorities. In the territorial sea, Indonesia has the right to apply its national laws.
The contiguous zone, on the other hand, effectively guards the territorial sea, and Indonesia has the right to use this zone to pursue foreign vessels that enter its territorial sea without prior notification.
In the EEZ, Indonesia enjoys so-called “sovereign rights”, which grant it the exclusive right to use the natural resources there. No other country has this right, but foreign vessels are free to navigate through EEZs without using natural resources. If foreign vessels want to take advantage of natural resources and conduct prospecting activities, they must obtain permission from Indonesia.
As such, Indonesian ownership of the Natuna Sea is strongly supported by UNCLOS, which recognizes Indonesia as an archipelagic state.
However, what Jakarta calls the North Natuna Sea falls under China’s broad claim of the “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. It is this overlap that has led to recent tensions in the region, although Indonesia has refused to recognize China’s claim.
Earlier this month, the Kunming 172 and its entourage sailed into the Sea of Natuna and entered waters belonging to the Indonesian EEZ. It is well known that Chinese ships frequently cross the Sea of Natuna. As mentioned above, foreign vessels are allowed to navigate EEZs in accordance with the principle of freedom of navigation, but what Indonesia should be wary of is the nature of the motives of these vessels.
There are two possible reasons for the recent presence of the Chinese Coast Guard vessel and the warship in the Indonesian EEZ. The first is that China wants Indonesia to negotiate territorial borders in the Natuna Sea in order to legitimize its claim to the “nine-dash line”. In this interpretation, the repeated entry of Chinese ships into the Natuna Sea is Beijing’s way of showing its power and sending an implicit message to Indonesia that the territory is part of its own.
The second reason is that China is looking for opportunities to exploit the natural resources that are found in the Indonesian EEZ. This is based on the fact that Chinese Coast Guard vessels have been seen escorting Chinese fishing vessels on several occasions. The main purpose of fishing boats, of course, is to catch fish, but until they do, they don’t violate UNCLOS. This is embarrassing for Indonesia as it is not allowed to expel or capture the fishing vessel, but if it looks the other way, there is a possibility that natural resources are being taken. It is a worrying gray area.
To deal with these two possible Chinese motives, the Indonesian government will certainly not open negotiations on the maritime borders around the Natuna Islands, recognizing that the claim of the “nine-dash line” has no legal basis and has been declared invalid by an international arbitral tribunal in 2016. The country must therefore negotiate maritime borders and the protection and use of natural resources with neighboring countries claiming territories in the South China Sea, namely Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam. The results of these negotiations should then be immediately submitted to the United Nations in accordance with Article 75 of UNCLOS.
Such a multilateral agreement would serve to strengthen Indonesia’s maritime borders in the Natuna Sea as well as consolidate relations between Indonesia and its neighbors. At the same time, it would help refute China’s claims in the Natuna Sea and cooperate in the protection and use of the region’s natural resources.
No less important is the urgency to increase Indonesian navy patrols in the EEZ area in order to protect our fishermen in the region and prevent them from being intimidated by the presence of ships from China and the United States. other countries. Without the effective presence of the Indonesian Navy in the northern Natuna Sea, other nations could be encouraged to carry out illegal activities. The Indonesian government should soon formulate a serious and integrated strategy protecting its national interests and supporting Indonesian sovereignty, especially in the tense areas around the Natuna Islands.