Asia Pacific / Politics

Indonesia looks to boost defenses around Natuna Islands in South China Sea

Kyodo

Indonesia plans to strengthen its capability to defend its land and waters in the South China Sea, namely the Natuna Islands around which the country has declared an exclusive economic zone that overlaps with China’s “nine-dash line” maritime claim, its defense minister said Tuesday.

“The Natuna Islands are our outer islands. It is quite natural and logical that a country has to secure its outer islands,” Ryamizard Ryacudu said in an interview, speaking to Kyodo News ahead of “two-plus-two” security talks in Tokyo on Thursday that will involve the foreign and defense ministers of Indonesia and Japan.

“We have to strengthen our military capability to anticipate any threats like illegal fishing or something like illicit intrusion and many kinds of nontraditional threats entering into our territory,” he added.

According to Ryamizard, Indonesia plans to deploy a fleet of jet fighters and three corvettes to the islands, revamp its naval and air force base and deploy more troops.

Indonesia currently has about 800 service members in Natuna. Next year, the number will rise to about 2,000.

“This is quite natural that every country will think that way because maintaining security is our job. We can at least control any intrusion to our territory, as well as monitoring and safeguarding the area from illegal fishing,” the defense minister said.

Indonesia protested China’s nine-dash line map when it was submitted to the United Nations in May 2009.

Through diplomatic channels and notes, Indonesia has been repeatedly seeking clarification from China on the nine-dash line shown on a map published in 1947 by the then Republic of China to justify its claims to most of the South China Sea, but to no avail.

And although Indonesia is not a claimant state in the disputes over islands and reefs in the South China Sea, which mainly involve China, Vietnam and the Philippines, it has been warily monitoring China’s development of infrastructure there, including rig and lighthouse construction, as well as its seismic surveys and fishing activities.

Indonesia and Japan’s “two-plus-two” meeting will mark Japan’s first such meeting with a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Japan already has two-plus-two security talks with countries including the United States, Britain and Australia.

According to the two countries’ foreign ministries, the main agenda item of the meeting will be the unsettling situation in the South China Sea, where tensions have been rising.

Japan aims to tap into Indonesia’s regional influence to help keep in check China’s muscle-flexing in the South China Sea, an area of crucial shipping lanes, abundant in marine resources and believed to be rich in oil and gas.

Speaking on the territorial disputes, which also involve Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, Ryamizard called on the claimants to enhance communication and find solutions through diplomatic channels.

He said bringing their cases to international courts should only be a last resort.

The Philippines is seeking arbitration rulings on whether some Chinese activities in the disputed waters are in violation of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, such as its interference with other countries’ fishing activities, its massive land reclamation projects and its fortification of some contested features.

During his Japan visit, Ryamizard may visit Hyogo-based Japanese aircraft manufacturer ShinMaywa Industries Ltd., which manufactures US-2 amphibious aircraft used in maritime rescue operations.

Earlier this year, the minister expressed Indonesia’s interest in procuring the aircraft, but he said no timeframe has been set.