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South China Sea
For At Least a Moment, Indonesia Comes Off the Sidelines

Is Indonesia rethinking its neutral stance in the South China Sea? Reuters:

Indonesia “feels sabotaged” in its efforts to maintain peace in the disputed South China Sea and may bring its latest maritime altercation with China to an international court, a minister said on Monday.

Indonesia is not embroiled in rival claims with China over the South China Sea and has instead seen itself as an “honest broker” in disputes between China and the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

But an incident on the weekend involving an Indonesian patrol boat, and a Chinese coastguard vessel and fishing boat in what Indonesia said was its waters has angered it and led to its questioning of its work to promote peace.

Despite the warnings, this isn’t a major shift in Jakarta’s South China Sea policy. Still, Indonesia’s rhetoric toward Beijing is usually much less assertive.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen lots of activity in the South China Sea in response to China’s continued development of islands in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos. Malaysia and Australia have both begun criticizing Beijing publicly, and are discussing ways they can work on protecting freedom of navigation together. The Philippines, which has already taken Beijing to court over maritime disputes, reached an agreement with the U.S. last week to allow American troops at five of its bases. China criticized the deal over the weekend, suggesting that Washington and Manila were militarizing the region themselves:

Asked about the base deal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that U.S.-Philippine cooperation should not be targeted at any third party nor harm other nations’ sovereignty or security interests.

“I also want to point out that recently the U.S. military likes to talk about the so-called militarization of the South China Sea,” Hua told a daily news conference.

“Can they then explain, isn’t this kind of continued strengthening of military deployments in the South China Sea and areas surrounding it considered militarization?”

With many eyes on the Middle East and Europe, it’s important not to miss what’s happening in the South China Sea, where tensions between powerful countries are rising very quickly.

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