Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has said Indonesia wants to maintain good relations with China despite a recent fishing dispute.
'We have a good relationship with China. [Despite the fishing dispute] we will strive to maintain our good relations along with international laws," Retno said at the State Palace on Monday.
Earlier, the Foreign Minister submitted a diplomatic note of protest to Chinese authorities in Jakarta in response to territorial violations allegedly committed by a China-flagged fishing vessel and a Chinese coast guard vessel.
The fishing vessel MV Kwang Fey 10078 was reported to have been fishing illegally in Indonesian waters off Natuna, Riau Islands. The Chinese coast guard vessel forcibly rescued the trawler by pushing it back into Chinese waters when a sea patrol from the Indonesian Maritime and Fisheries Monitoring Task Force was escorting the boat after apprehending it.
Retno said Indonesia conveyed three main concerns in the protest note. First, violations of Indonesia's sovereignty and jurisdiction on the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf; second, Chinese authorities' move to contravene law enforcement measures conducted by Indonesian authorities in the EEZ and continental shelf; and third, violations of Indonesia's sovereignty over its sea territory.
'We have submitted our protests to the temporary charge d'affaires [at the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta]. We said our relationship with China is very good and to maintain it, we should also respect existing international laws, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS],' the minister said.
Separately, an international law expert from the University of Indonesia, Hikmahanto Juwana, said the Indonesian government must take firm action against moves by the Chinese coast guard vessel to forcibly rescue the fishing boat.
Hikmahanto said an excuse conveyed by the Chinese government, which reportedly claimed that the China-flagged vessel was operating in a 'traditional fishing ground', could not be justified.
"This is because the UNCLOS, in which Indonesia and China are both participants, does not recognize the concept of traditional fishing ground," Hikmahanto said on Monday.
He explained that the only related concept he knew about was the so-called 'traditional fishing right', which could take effect in a particular maritime area based on an agreement between two countries. Indonesia has such an agreement with Malaysia, but not with China, he went on. "Hence, the excuse given by the Chinese government is not reasonable," Hikmahanto said.
He criticized the move by the Chinese government, which he said was a close friend of the Indonesian government, to protect the Chinese fishing vessel.
The international law expert said the incident would certainly affect the good relations between the two countries.
"It's not impossible that the Indonesian government will step back from its position as a mediator on territorial disputes in the South China Sea," he said.
Furthermore, Hikmahanto said, it was possible that the Indonesian government would review economic partnerships between the two countries, including in the issues of infrastructure development and loans for infrastructure projects.
The incident began on Saturday at 2 p.m. when an Indonesian sea patrol spotted the Kwang Fey 10078 weighing 200 gross tonnage (GT) in a position within Indonesia's EEZ in the South China Sea.
At 3 p.m., the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry patrol vessel KP HIU 011 detained the vessel along with eight crew members for allegedly fishing illegally using trawl nets. It later escorted the vessel to Natuna waters for further investigation.
At 2 a.m. on Sunday, on the way to Natuna, an armed Chinese coast guard ship collided with the towed ship in an apparent attempt to shut down its engine to prevent it being taken to Indonesian territorial waters.
Soon after, another better-equipped Chinese coast guard ship arrived on the scene and ordered the Indonesian patrol vessel to release the ship within 30 minutes so it could be taken back to Chinese waters. (ebf)