Why there is no ‘new maritime dispute’ between Indonesia and China

In the last two weeks, there have been reports circulating that Indonesia is now officially standing up against China’s claims in the South China Sea.

Two days ago, Ann Marie Murphy wrote for the Pacific Forum PacNet newsletter that “Indonesia formally announces its dispute with China in the South China Sea”.  She claims that, “Indonesian officials on March 12, 2014 announced that China’s nine-dash line map outlining its claim in the South China Sea overlaps with Indonesia’s Riau province, which includes the Natuna Island chain,” in a sign of a “significant policy shift.”

As she did not provide the source of this announcement, I can only speculate or assume that the source came from a piece authored by Zachary Keck The Diplomat ran a few weeks ago claiming that China has started a new “maritime dispute” with Indonesia.

Keck used a news report that cited Indonesian navy commodore Fahru Zaini, an assistant to the first deputy of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs (Menkopolhukam):

China has claimed Natuna waters as their territorial waters. This arbitrary claim is related to the dispute over Spratly and Paracel Islands between China and the Philippines. This dispute will have a large impact on the security of Natuna waters…[because] China has drawn the sea map of Natuna Islands in the South China Sea in its territorial map with nine dash lines.

Others have also picked up on his statement (see The Jakarta Globe, for example).

This alleged ‘dispute’ then is somehow seen as potentially problematic because, as Keck also suggested, Indonesia is beefing up its military presence and infrastructure in the area.

The overall impression therefore is that Indonesia’s defense modernization and deployment plans are somehow driven by China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, and that now Jakarta has officially staked out its policy to challenge Beijing.

This impression is false for several reasons. Continue reading

Jakarta Eyes South China Sea

In a recent interview with the Asahi Shimbun, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claimed that as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, one of his top priorities would be to make progress over the South China Sea dispute by bringing China into multilateral talks.

This concern over Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea reflects four underlying considerations in Jakarta regarding the dispute, which involves China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Brunei.

Continue reading