Singaporean Navy RSS Tenacious and RSS Justice along with Indonesian Navy KRI Diponegoro and KRI Malahayati during 2021 Eagle Indopura Joint Exercise.
“China is showing its strength. It not only objected to Indonesia’s drilling operations on [Indonesia’s] own territory, but also sent coast guard ships to the area to pressure Indonesia.”
On 15 January, the mainly centrist leaning Indonesian-language website of Republika Merdeka, dunia.rmol.id, published the excerpted article on Indonesia’s evolving strategy towards China in the South China Sea and adjacent waters. According to the article, China forced Indonesia into conflict due to Chinese coast guard ships’ encroachment into the Natuna Sea, and Chinese demands that Indonesia not extract resources from that sea. The article notes that Indonesia argues the sea is part of its internationally recognized exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and is unwilling to acknowledge in the international arena that any dispute exists over its own maritime territory.
The article examines Indonesia’s strategy of outreach to navies in Southeast Asia, which are also seeing China make competing assertions to their own South China Sea territorial claims. For example, Indonesia invited maritime security officials from five other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members, including Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Vietnam, to a meeting in early 2023 to discuss responses to China’s assertiveness in the sea. However, the article also concludes that China may take retaliatory actions against those countries if they participate in the proposed meeting.
In particular, the article focuses on Indonesia’s relationship with Vietnam. The Vietnamese Coast Guard and Indonesian Maritime Security Agency, Baklama, signed a memorandum of understanding in January to cooperate on mutual maritime security. In addition, the article noted that Indonesia was discussing with Russia’s state oil company to connect a pipeline from the Natuna Sea to Vietnam’s offshore network. Indonesia already completed the drilling for this project, which, according to the article, Indonesia considered a Baklama victory over China. It is unclear, however, what effect Russia’s increasing reliance on China because of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine might have on Indonesia’s pipeline project with Russia.
In anticipation of any Chinese naval actions to take control of the Natuna Sea, the article notes that Indonesia is strengthening its defenses. This includes building an additional runway to improve aerial surveillance of the sea, as well as a new submarine base. Further, the country is expanding defense cooperation with three countries outside of Southeast Asia, including Japan, India, and Australia, to deter Chinese naval operations in the Natuna Sea.
“Indonesia Bersiap Menantang China di Laut China Selatan, Akankah Diikuti Negara ASEAN Lainnya? (Indonesia Prepares to Challenge China in the South China Sea, Will Other ASEAN Countries Follow?),” dunia.rmol.id (mainly centrist leaning Indonesian-language website of Republika Merdeka), 15 January 2022. https://dunia.rmol.id/read/2022/01/15/519533/indonesia-bersiap-menantang-china-di-laut-china-selatan-akankah-diikuti-negara-asean-lainnya
China has officially opened another front in its hostilities in the South China Sea. China’s behavior ultimately pushed Jakarta to confront the defend its own territory because the disputed area by China was actually in the Indonesian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Jakarta has gone its own way by seeking support from the Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft to construct a pipeline in the Natuna Sea to link up with Vietnam’s offshore network. Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) has claimed success in the endeavor, which some analysts have called “Indonesia’s great victory over China.” China had repeatedly reminded Indonesia to stop the project and stated it was a violation because it infringed on Chinese territory. China is showing its strength. It not only objected to Indonesia’s drilling operations on its own territory, but also sent coast guard ships to the area to pressure Indonesia
The latest initiative that Indonesia has taken is to invite officials in charge of maritime security from five other ASEAN countries to meet early next year to discuss how to respond to China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea. The Vietnam Coast Guard and the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency last month also signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in strengthening maritime security and safety between the two powers. And the Indonesian military is extending the runway of an air base so that additional aircraft can be deployed, along with constructing a submarine base and developing defense cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.
Image: Singaporean Navy RSS Tenacious and RSS Justice along with Indonesian Navy KRI Diponegoro and KRI Malahayati during 2021 Eagle Indopura Joint Exercise.
Source: Dispen Koarmada II (II Fleet Command Information Service)
Attribution: CC x 2.0