JAKARTA – Indonesian navy has increased patrols around its Natuna islands in the South China Sea after Chinese and U.S. vessels were detected nearby in international waters, despite saying there were no disturbance from the vessels, a navy official said on Thursday.
Five navy vessels, assisted by an air patrol, have been deployed in North Natuna Sea to secure the area, Indonesian Navy western fleet commander Arsyad Abdullah told reporters.
“The Navy’s position on the North Natuna Sea is very firm in protecting national interests within the Indonesian jurisdiction in accordance with national law and international law that have been ratified so that there is no tolerance for any violations in the North Natuna Sea,” Arsyad said.
In 2017, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea, as part of a push back against China’s maritime territorial ambitions.
Arsyad said U.S. and Chinese navy ships have been detected nearby recently but said they were no disturbance, adding that they were still in international waters.
A weeks-long standoff in Natuna occurred early January last year when a Chinese coast guard vessel and accompanying fishing boats entered the northern Natuna Sea, prompting Indonesia to send fighter jets https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-china-southchinasea-waters-idUSKBN1Z8146 and mobilise its own fishermen.
China has not claimed the Natuna islands themselves, but says it has nearby fishing rights within a self-proclaimed Nine-Dash Line that includes most of the energy rich South China Sea – a claim disputed by some Southeast Asian countries and not recognised internationally.