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Jakarta Post

Indonesia calls for parties to exercise self-restraint in South China Sea amid pandemic

  • Apriza Pinandita

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, May 7, 2020   /   10:35 am
Indonesia calls for parties to exercise self-restraint in South China Sea amid pandemic A map of disputed areas in the South China Sea. Indonesia expressed on Wednesday its concern about recent activities in the South China Sea that could potentially lead to an escalation in tensions at a time when a collective global effort is needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. (Straits Times Graphics/-)

Indonesia expressed on Wednesday its concern about recent activities in the South China Sea that could potentially lead to an escalation in tensions at a time when a collective global effort is needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The concerns were raised following the latest maneuvers by China and the United States in the highly disputed region – a sea in the Pacific Ocean that covers an area of around 3.5 million square kilometers.

The South China Sea has been the source of a prolonged dispute between China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, which each have competing territorial claims.

In a virtual press briefing on Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said that Indonesia underlined the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea including “ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight” and urged “all parties to respect international law particularly the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]”.

On Monday, US air force bombers reportedly conducted a sortie over the East China Sea in what was called a “freedom of navigation operation”, Taiwanese English newspaper Taiwan News reported.

The newspaper said that two US B-1B supersonic bombers flew from Guam to the East China Sea and approached Taiwan's northeastern maritime border along the way.

Read also: Malaysia calls for peaceful end to months-long South China Sea standoff

The flight by the US bombers comes several days after the Chinese military said it opposed “foreign powers bolstering their naval presence in the South China Sea”.

Taiwanese National Defense Ministry (MND) spokesman Shih Shun-wen pointed out that the Taiwanese air force maintained full control over the sea and air surrounding the Taiwan Strait, despite many previous military flights being conducted by Washington over the region.

These missions serve to maintain the US’ presence in the region while it also seeks to keep an eye on Chinese military developments amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan News reported.

Retno said Indonesia had called on all relevant parties to “exercise self-restraint and to refrain from undertaking action that may [erode] mutual trust and potentially escalate tension in the region”, adding that such a state of affairs needed to be maintained after negotiations of the code of conduct (COC) on the South China Sea were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Indonesia, she added, believed that a stable situation in the South China Sea would be conducive to the COC negotiations.

“Therefore, we remain committed to ensuring a COC that is effective, substantive and actionable, despite the current circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she concluded.

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Since last month, Beijing has been increasingly assertive in the region as the COVID-19 crisis eases on the mainland, with a crackdown against democracy activists in Hong Kong and saber-rattling around Taiwan and the South China Sea, Reuters reported.

The US State Department said China was taking advantage of the region's focus on the pandemic to "coerce its neighbors".

The news agency reported that China had also been flying regular fighter patrols near Taiwan and had sent a survey ship flanked by coast guard and other vessels into the South China Sea, prompting the United States to accuse Beijing of "bullying behavior".