Sunday, May 31, 2009
Indonesian and Malaysia row over Ambalat wealth
Ambalat Waters Row Must Be Resolved
Indonesia and Malaysia teetered on the edge of violence last
week when an Indonesian Navy vessel was moments away from firing
on a Malaysian warship that had encroached deep into Indonesian
This intrusion was, however, just the latest since the beginning
of the year and highlights the growing tension between the two
Asean neighbors in the disputed oil-rich waters of Ambalat in
the Sulawesi Sea. The Indonesian Navy has stated that the
Malaysian Navy and Marine Police had intruded into Indonesian
waters at least 10 times since January.
Indonesia and Malaysia have in the past quarreled over disputed
territory, with Indonesia losing control over Sipadan and
Ligitan islands. That dispute dated back to 1982 and was settled
by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2002 in
Malaysia’s favor on the basis of effective occupation.
The court, however, did not decide on the question of
territorial waters and maritime borders, which means that the
dispute between the two countries over territorial waters and
the continental shelf remains unresolved. The recent incidents
in Ambalat are thus a continuation of this ongoing dispute.
The dispute over Ambalat emerged after the Malaysian government
awarded a contract to Royal Dutch Shell in February 2005 to
explore and develop the Ambalat deepwater oil block in the
Sulawesi Sea, near Malaysia’s Sabah state and Indonesia’s East
Kalimantan province. Indonesia had awarded Unocal a contract for
the same block three months earlier, in November 2004.
It’s no surprise that the two countries would lay claim to the
territory given the rich oil reserves locked in the seabed.
Indonesia is the largest oil-producing country in Southeast
Asia, with Malaysia in second place. Both sides, therefore, have
enormous reasons to lay claim to the area.
Such disputes are never easy to resolve as neither side will be
willing to concede territory. In matters of national
sovereignty, passions can run high and politicians invariably
use such opportunities to trumpet their nationalist credentials.
It’s thus reassuring to hear Ministry of Foreign Affairs
spokesman Teuku Faizasyah say that such incidents are in fact
common as the dispute has yet to be resolved. Having said that,
the foreign ministry and the government must move quickly to
resolve the dispute and present its case as forcibly as possible.
In the Ambalat case, Malaysia seems to be dragging its heels as
it put bilateral talks on hold in April 2008. The ball is
therefore in Malaysia’s court and it must renew diplomacy as
soon as possible rather than adding fuel to the fire by
intruding into Indonesian waters.
Indonesia has every right to protect its national waters and
defend its sovereignty. It’s been nearly 50 years since the two
neighbors faced off militarily. It would be tragic if the
current dispute over Ambalat leads to another military standoff.
The Jakarta Globe
June 1, 2009