The Jakarta Post
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo departed on Wednesday morning for Natuna regency, Riau Islands amid the country’s ongoing spat with China over the latter’s controversial naval maneuvers in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Natuna Sea.
With his entourage from Jakarta, Jokowi arrived at Raden Sadjad Air Force Base at 9:10 a.m. and was welcomed by, among others, Riau Islands acting governor Isdianto and Joint Defense Area Command (Kogabwilhan) I commander Rear Adm. Yudo Margono.
According to a statement, Jokowi’s itinerary includes a visit to the Natuna regent’s office to handover land certificates for locals. In addition, Jokowi is also scheduled to meet with hundreds of local fisherfolk. Yudo previously said Jokowi’s visit would not include an extra layer of security in the contested maritime region.
“Our military forces will remain unchanged,” Yudo told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Natuna administration spokesperson Defrizal said after arriving at the air base, Jokowi and his entourage were scheduled to leave for Ranai Naval Base, from where they were expected to head to an area in the Natuna Sea for inspection.
Jokowi was only scheduled to visit the region for a few hours as he was expected to return to Jakarta in the afternoon. “He’s supposed to fly back to Jakarta in the afternoon. He won’t spend the night in Natuna,” Defrizal said.
The Indonesian Military (TNI) has claimed that Chinese fishing vessels remain in the North Natuna Sea — located at the southern tip of the South China Sea, which China claims as its “traditional fishing grounds” — despite Indonesia’s protests and attempts to increase its presence in the area.
The Navy has deployed at least six warships to secure and patrol Natuna waters.
“We will deploy four additional warships – two of them arrived on Monday, while two others are still being transported. So in total, we will have deployed six warships,” Yudo said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang insisted last Tuesday that the Chinese vessels were performing "routine" activities to assert its sovereignty over the nearby Spratly Islands as well as its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters nearby, adding that China would like to work with Indonesia to continue managing disputes properly through bilateral dialogue.
Indonesia responded on Wednesday by firmly rejecting the asserted historical claims over its EEZ in the North Natuna Sea. The ministry said it was "unilateral, had no legal basis and had never been recognized by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea". (rfa)