Even as it is yet to resolve its sovereignty issues with the Philippines and other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the South China Sea and Japan in the East China Sea, China seems to be swiftly headed for another territorial row – this time with Indonesia.
For the first time, Indonesia acknowledged the threat inherent in Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea after learning that the Chinese government has issued passports with a new map encompassing part of the Natuna waters that Jakarta has long claimed as its own.
According to Indonesian Commodore Fahru Zaini, assistant deputy to the chief security minister for defense strategic doctrine, China’s fresh arbitrary claim is somehow related to the dispute over the West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines.
“What China has done is related to the territorial zone of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia,” said Zaini, who admitted that the potential dispute would have a large impact on the security of Natuna waters.
The area being pointed out is located in the vicinity of the 272-island Natuna archipelago between Peninsular Malaysia to the west and Borneo to the east. The Natuna Sea itself is a section of the South China Sea.
The Natuna area is known for its strategic location as well as its economical value, particularly because of its large natural gas reserves.
Zaini said that while there has been no formal claim from China over the Natuna area, the Indonesian government is wary of a possible repeat of the Sipadan-Ligitan incident it had with neighboring Malaysia.
The 1979 continental shelf and territorial sea map by Malaysia placed the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan within the country’s territorial waters. Indonesia initially rejected the assertion that the islands belonged to Malaysia and both countries brought the dispute to the International Court of Justice.
In 2002, the court decided that Malaysia had sovereignty over the two islands. The court however did not determine the maritime boundary in the surrounding waters.