To date, Indonesia has been largely a bystander in China’s territorial disputes with countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. But it’s beginning to worry that China also has designs on its own small, energy-rich archipelago, Natuna. Reuters reports that, though the signs may currently be small, they add up to a worrying picture for Indonesia:
In April, Indonesian armed forces chief Moeldoko accused China of including parts of Natuna within its so-called “Nine-Dash Line,” the vague boundary used on Chinese maps to lay claim to about 90 percent of the South China Sea. […]With maritime tensions rising between China and the Philippines and Vietnam, Moeldoko later vowed to send more troops to Natuna “to anticipate any instability in the South China Sea and serve as an early warning system for Indonesia”.The airforce plans to upgrade Ranai’s airbase to accommodate fighter jets and attack helicopters.
Meanwhile, China’s response to Indonesia’s attempts to crack down on foreign boats fishing in Indonesian waters have been aggressive, to say the least. The article continues:
A nearby bay is littered with the disintegrating wrecks of a dozen or more boats, mostly Vietnamese trawlers confiscated by the Indonesian authorities for fishing illegally. That no Chinese trawlers rot in this marine graveyard is testament to China’s growing maritime muscle.In March 2013, armed Chinese vessels confronted a patrol boat from Indonesia’s maritime and fisheries ministry and demanded the release of Chinese fishermen who had just been apprehended in Natuna waters. Fearing for his safety, the captain of the Indonesian boat complied.Similarly, in 2010, a Chinese maritime enforcement vessel compelled an Indonesian patrol boat to release another illegal Chinese trawler.
It’s not just the major players in China’s territorial disputes who are growing concerned. Even the bit players are worried.