Tension between China and Indonesia explained

Dr. Nathaniel Hayes, high school social studies teacher, discusses tensions between Indonesia and China. Video credit: Eliott R.

Eliott R., Reporter

Several Chinese ships were escorted by the Chinese Coast Guard into Indonesia’s Natuna Islands in late December.  This action caused the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo to send four warships, 120 fishing boats and four F-16 jet fighters to patrol the area.

Last Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, stated that both countries have been in contact through diplomatic channels, and China is legally allowed to enter Indonesia’s waters.  However, according to Bloomberg, Indonesia asserts that there will be “no negotiation” with China over its maritime borders.

This is not the first time the two sides have fought near Natuna. For years, Indonesia fended off fishermen from coastal Asian countries who were caught poaching in its waters. Indonesia confiscated and, at times, destroyed the boats, some of which were Chinese.

In 2016, there were encounters between Chinese and Indonesian ships, and in December, more Chinese ships arrived. Despite Indonesia’s protests, China insisted upon their historical rights to fish near Natuna, as well as sent the coast guard, who carried out routine patrols and protected the rights and interests of the Chinese people.

Indonesia retorted that those claims had no legal basis. Over the following week, Indonesia sent ships to drive the Chinese out and show that it was serious in protecting its maritime borders. The Wall Street Journal reported that during several encounters, Indonesian ships sent radio messages in Mandarin telling the Chinese to leave their waters. However, the Chinese responded with “do not disturb our activities.”

Indonesia is not the only stakeholder in this situation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Chinese ships deployed in the South East China Sea are causing tensions with coastal Asian countries including Vietnam, Philippines, and Malaysia. China’s actions give them more control over the region, which makes it difficult for the Asian countries to extract natural resources, such as fish and natural gas.

The issue has still not been resolved, as demonstrated by the recent events. During the second week of January, President Joko Widodo visited the islands near the area of tension in order to boost the people’s trust in him. Although Chinese ships, followed by the Indonesian navy, began to withdraw from the area, they are still patrolling the area.

Map source: AFP News

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