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Jakarta Post

Diplomacy for maritime fulcrum

Darmansjah Djumala
Jakarta   ●   Mon, February 9, 2015

President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo has announced his vision to transform Indonesia into a maritime axis. To work with other countries to forge maritime-based cooperation, Indonesia should elucidate further what this vision is all about. Countries such as China, the US, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Norway and India have shown interest in Indonesia'€™s maritime fulcrum. But what should we cooperate on? Maritime affairs are inherently multidimensional and multisector in their operation. The maritime fulcrum must be construed in three dimensions, in which partnerships with other countries can be fostered.

First we should ensure how Indonesia exerts complete sovereignty over its territorial waters along with sovereign rights over its natural resources in the exclusive economic zone. This has been enshrined in international law with the 1982 UN Convention of the Law of the Seas. Although Indonesia has set its own maritime borders in conformity with the international law, delineating maritime borders still requires negotiations with neighboring countries.

Indonesia has maritime borders with 10 countries, the demarcation of some of which are still in negotiation. Undertaking diplomacy for the maritime axis signifies that Indonesia should expedite the settlement of its maritime borders with its neighbors. The clarity and certainty of maritime borders as well as the ownership of the small outer islands would help promote cooperation in shipping, fisheries and other maritime-resource development.

Certainty of maritime borders is also critical when it comes to law enforcement, for instance sinking boats caught fishing illegally. Indonesia is very decisive in imposing its policy on illegal fishing because Indonesia is convinced that the foreign vessels trespass in its territorial waters, which necessitates unambiguous maritime borders.

Other countries may also impose stern measures against our fishermen who catch fish in their territory. To avert unnecessary diplomatic incidents, Indonesian fishermen must be cognizant of the maritime borders between Indonesia and its neighbors so they do not trespass in the territorial seas of other states. Providing information to fisherman is an integral part of efforts to fit the maritime axis into the mold of diplomacy.

Second is the security dimension. Indonesia should not only act as the center of maritime dynamics and economic activity between two continents and two oceans but should also take great responsibility. If Indonesia wants to be a center of maritime activity in the region, then we should guarantee that our territorial and adjacent waters are safe.

There are at least two types of security threats in Indonesian maritime territory. First are crimes at sea such as smuggling and piracy and second is the menace that stems from interstate conflicts such as territorial disputes. Diplomacy regarding security can be done through mediating the territorial conflict in the South China Sea.

With the US rebalancing policy in East Asia, especially with intensifying defense cooperation with Vietnam and the Philippines, China undoubtedly will not just stay put. With its economic and military prowess, China will react to the balancing policies of the US. If the US'€™ rebalancing policy and China'€™s counteraction are not shrewdly calculated, conflict escalation will be inevitable.

Indonesia and other ASEAN members who have no claim over the disputed territory (the non-claimant states) can play the role of mediator between the US and China; thus concluding the code of conduct proposed by Indonesia must be expedited. If Indonesia wishes to be the maritime fulcrum in the region, it needs to suppress the conflict potential in the South China Sea as much as possible through diplomacy.

Third is the prosperity dimension. This suggests that Indonesia has to boost its economy not only by taking advantage of maritime resources but also maritime dynamics and interaction in the Asia-Pacific region. Based on the estimate of the former maritime affairs and fisheries minister, Rokhmin Dahuri, Indonesian maritime potential can contribute up to US$1.2 trillion to annual national income, among others from fisheries, mining, energy, shipping and tourism.

Economic dynamics in Southeast Asia is projected to skyrocket as the result of the shifting economic gravity from the Trans-Atlantic to the Asia Pacific. Indonesia can reap the benefits from its geographical fate . Just imagine, almost 70 percent of world trade takes place around the Asia Pacific, of which approximately 45 percent passes through Indonesia'€™s archipelago.

Thus, connectivity is of paramount importance not only between domestic ports but also with other major ASEAN harbors. Indonesia should harness all of its diplomatic machinery to draw investment and funding from its partner countries for the construction of maritime infrastructure, shipyards and fishing industry. Hence, we need an Indonesian maritime development blueprint as a guideline for maritime diplomacy. This blueprint should act as a reference for diplomats to determine with what countries and in what sectors maritime cooperation should be promoted.

Next, how should we instill the idea of maritime fulcrum into diplomacy? To get support from its economic partners, Indonesia should promulgate maritime issues, particularly the maritime fulcrum, in international organizations. This can be done through mainstreaming the maritime issue in international deliberation.

It should be done first at the regional level, such as through ASEAN and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Out of the six IORA pillars of cooperation, only two are directly related to maritime issues '€” maritime security and fishery management. In fact, maritime affairs are far more overarching than these two matters. Indonesia should have robust maritime connectivity, including with other IORA members.

When the Malacca Strait becomes too saturated in terms of shipping volume, the shipping route from Europe, Africa and the Middle East to East Asia will shift to the Sunda Strait.

The ports in southwest Sumatra, Lampung and Belitung will become more strategic for international shipping. We must also magnify the maritime issues within IORA. The momentum for that is just around the corner: Indonesia will assume the chairmanship of IORA by the end of this year. With that chairmanship, Indonesia must take a role to bolster the mutual reinforcement of diplomacy and maritime fulcrum.


The writer is the director general and head of policy analysis and development at the Foreign Ministry. The views expressed are his own