The Jakarta Post
Following a maritime skirmish involving Chinese coast guard vessels and Indonesian patrol boats on Saturday, officials in Jakarta have stepped up their calls for China to refrain from any further confrontation.
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti said on Monday that Indonesia felt its efforts to maintain peace in the South China Sea were being undermined and that it may take the latest incident with China to an international court.
'We feel our efforts are being sabotaged [...] We may take it to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea [ITLOS],' Susi told a press briefing on Monday.
Susi also rejected China's demand to release eight members of a Chinese fishing vessel's crew detained during Saturday's incident, insisting that the eight would be prosecuted in line with Indonesian law.
Susi accused China of obstructing law enforcement when large Chinese coast guard vessels intercepted Indonesian patrol boats towing the 2,000-gross-ton Kway Fey 10078, a Chinese fishing boat caught operating illegally near the Natuna Islands.
The Kway Fey, which was being towed to the nearest naval base by patrol vessel KP Hiu 011, was rammed by an armed Chinese coast guard boat at the border of Indonesian waters, sustaining operational damage.
Susi said the collision had prevented the Chinese fishing boat from being towed away by the much smaller Indonesian patrol boat, which was forced to leave the fishing boat to the Chinese authorities, settling with detaining the eight-strong crew.
Beijing, through its Charge d'affaires Sun Weide in Jakarta, called on Indonesia to release the eight, arguing they had been operating in 'traditional Chinese fishing grounds' and that the Chinese coast guard vessel had not entered Indonesian waters.
Susi rebuffed China's demands, calling them 'baseless' and demanding it surrender the Kway Fey to the Indonesian authorities or risk legal recourse through ITLOS.
'In a number of statements, China has emphasized that it doesn't contest Indonesia's claims over Natuna. As such, China can't lay historical claim to that very same area,' Susi said on Monday.
Indonesia has actively pursued dialogue to ease tensions and prevent open conflict in the contentious region, but objects to the 'Nine-Dash-Line' that sets out China's claim most of the South China Sea.
Although the Natuna Islands are outside of the Nine-Dash-Line, the line does overlap with Indonesia's 322-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ) .
From Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated the stance.
'The sovereignty of the Natunas belongs to Indonesia. China has no objections to this,' Hua told a press briefing.
Any maritime disputes should be resolved by talks, and China also opposes illegal fishing, Hua was reported by Reuters as saying.
Earlier on Monday, Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi summoned Chinese Embassy's Charge d'affaires Sun to lodge a strong protest against China, saying that the Chinese coast guard had entered Indonesian territory and violated Indonesia's sovereignty during the altercation.
'The Chinese coast guard violated Indonesia's sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the EEZ and continental shelf,' Retno told reporters after her meeting with Sun, representing ambassador Xie Feng, who is currently in Beijing.
Retno said the government had asked for clarification from its Chinese counterparts about the incident and emphasized that Indonesia remained a non-claimant state in the South China Sea.
Separately, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said that Jakarta would bolster its presence in Natuna by deploying better-equipped patrol boats and other defense systems.
'We will certainly look to strengthen the naval base in Natuna,' Luhut said.
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