JAKARTA (TheInsiderStories) – Defense minister of Indonesia, Prabowo Subianto, has met Chinese state councilor and defense minister, Wei Fenghe, at his office on Tuesday (09/08). In the bilateral meeting, the ministers talked about various important matters related to national defense, the preventing the COVID-19 outbreak, educational cooperation, and the latest issues in the Asia Pacific Region.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries. Wei said, the situation in the South China Sea remains generally stable thanks to the joint efforts of China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) countries. China, he continued, is willing to strengthen dialogue and consultation with Indonesia to jointly maintain peace and stability in the sea.
Earlier, Indonesia has sent a letter to United Nation secretary-general António Guterres opposing Beijing’ claims in the South China Sea. The letter spelled out the Indonesian government’ support for a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague.
It said, as a State Party to UNCLOS 1982, Indonesia has consistently called for the full compliance toward international law, including UNCLOS 1982. The country declares that its not bound by any claims made in contravention to international law, including UNCLOS 1982.
While, foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, warned the United States (US) and China not to involve Indonesia in their battle in the sea. US’ secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his counterpart, Wang Yi have stepped up their diplomacy in an effort to persuade the Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) members to be more sympathetic to their positions.
Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping offered controlling stake in joint oil and gas exploration venture to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. In exchange, Xi wants Duterte ignoring an international arbitration on the South China Sea. China and Malaysia also have agreed to set up a joint dialogue mechanism for the disputed South China Sea.
The ASEAN countries look to maintain their ties with China despite the US full-throated backing of an international ruling dismissing China’ claims to nearly all of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia have been so long overlapping China on its vast claim over the water.
Duterte’ spokesman, Harry Roque, said the Philippines stands by the 2016 ruling against China. He explained the Philippines does not want to rock the boat and would rather seek an end to disputes with China through venues like ASEAN and mechanisms like a “code of conduct” on resolving maritime rows. The Philippines is contesting China’ claims over waters it considers part of its exclusive economic zone. China’ vast claims also overlap those of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
In recent months, Beijing has sunk Vietnamese fishing vessels, sent an armed flotilla to harass Malaysian offshore energy exploration, and wielded maritime militia to surround Philippine outposts. The country has further militarized its artificial islands in the Spratlys with new aircraft deployments. It has announced unilateral fishing bans.
It has conducted destabilizing military exercises in contested waters around disputed features. And it increasingly uses its artificial islands as bases for harassment operations – to curtail access of ASEAN coastal states to offshore oil, gas, and fisheries.
Wang Yi noted that with the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea has generally remained stable. But, he said, the US “out of its own geopolitical needs, worries only if the South China Sea is not chaotic”.
Indonesia, which is not a claimant state but has clashed with China over fishing rights around the northern islands of Natuna, said its position remains “firm and consistent”. The country’ interest in the South China Sea remains the same – it seeks to maintain peace and security in the South China Sea and the broader region.
Four years after the Hague’ 2016 South China Sea tribunal ruling, Indonesia put forward a formal diplomatic note to the UN. This was in response to Malaysia’ 2019 continental shelf submission that objected to China’ maritime claims in the South China Sea, including the area bounded by China’ nine-dash line. It said that ‘Indonesia is not bound by any claims made in contravention to international law’.
“Any country’ support for Indonesia’ rights concerning Natuna’ waters is normal, as our position is based on UNCLOS,” said Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for Indonesia’ foreign affairs ministry.
UNCLOS delineates exclusive economic zones that countries may claim, based on land features. Previously, the Donald Trump administration has escalated its response against China by rejecting nearly all of Beijing’ claims in the South China Sea.
Pompeo has said, the US would treat Beijing’ pursuit of resources in the dispute-rife South China Sea as illegal, ramping up pressure on another front. He explicitly sided with ASEAN nations, after years of the US saying that it took no position on the merits of disputes between China and each of its ASEAN neighbors.
In line with the 2016 ruling, Pompeo said Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal both “fall fully under the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction”. The US now rejects Beijing’ claims in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank off Vietnam, Lucania Shoals off Malaysia, waters considered in Brunei’ exclusive economic zone and Natuna Besar off Indonesia.
Any Chinese action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters – or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is unlawful, Pompeo said. Reportedly, nearly US$4 trillion in trade transits the South China Sea each year. More than $1 trillion of that is linked to the US market.
The sea is home to an estimated $2.6 trillion in recoverable offshore oil and gas. It also has some of the world’s richest fishing grounds that employ an estimated 3.7 million people in coastal ASEAN states.
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