East Asia Correspondent – David McDonald
Chances Are Less Than Even That China Will Extend Its Claims Into Indonesian Territory
Chances are worse than even that China is trying to extend its South China Sea claims into Indonesian territory. However, it is likely that the feud over Indonesia’s Natuna Islands will intensify. China stated that it would respect Indonesia’s claim to the archipelago, but that it reserves the right to fish in waters around Pulau Natuna Besar Island.
Tensions between China and Indonesia arose after a Chinese coast guard ship freed a fishing vessel seized by Indonesian authorities on 20 March 2016.[i] The move concerned Indonesian military officials who announced their plans to establish a submarine base on the Pulau Natuna Besar Island due to increased Chinese activity.[ii] Despite the incident, China and Indonesia cooperated in a joint military disaster relief exercise with 16 other nations, displaying the intent of both countries to remain professional despite increased tensions.[iii]
Though Indonesia is concerned about China’s recent activity in the region, China’s defense minister reassured Indonesia that it considers the Natuna Islands to be Indonesian territory, but that traditional Chinese fishing grounds surround the islands.[iv] This caused Indonesian authorities to protest that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) does not recognize China’s claims of traditional fishing grounds within the region.[v] Indonesia’s defense minister was likely referring to article 55 of the 1982 UNCLOS Agreement, which states that a state has sovereignty to explore and manage natural resources within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).[vi]
This incident between China and Indonesia is not the first time the two countries quarreled over fishing territory in the region. In 2009, Indonesian maritime authorities spotted a fishing vessel off the coast of the Natuna Islands and eventually detained the vessel, which they blew up six years later.[vii] This demonstrates that despite China’s persisting interest in using the region for fishing, it displays no intention in asserting control over it.
Analytic confidence for this assessment is medium. The analyst used two Analysis of Competing Hypotheses matrices and Geospatial mapping for this analysis. Source reliability is medium with no conflict among sources. Not all sources were recent, as the analyst used older sources to provide background. The analyst’s expertise on the topic is minimal. The analyst worked alone with some casual discussion among group members. The task complexity was somewhat complex and the time constraint was sufficient.
Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) and Land Claims, South China Sea
Palau Natuna Besar – 12 Mile Map