Indonesia intensifies patrols after detecting Chinese and US war ships in nearby international waters

Indonesia increased patrols around its Natuna islands in the South China Sea after Chinese and US vessels were detected nearby in international waters.

At least five navy vessels assisted by an air patrol were deployed in North Natuna Sea to secure the area, Indonesian Navy western fleet commander Arsyad Abdullah said.

The Navy’s position on the North Natuna Sea is very firm in protecting national interests within the Indonesian jurisdiction in accordance with national law and international law that have been ratified so that there is no tolerance for any violations in the North Natuna Sea,” Arsyad said.

In 2017 Indonesia renamed the northern reaches in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea, as part of a push back against China’s maritime territorial ambitions.

Arsyad said US and Chinese navy ships have been detected nearby recently but said they were not a disturbance, adding that they were still in international waters.

In January last year a Chinese coast guard vessel and accompanying fishing boats entered the northern Natuna Sea, prompting Indonesia to send fighter jets and mobilise its own fishermen.

“There is no bargaining when it comes to our sovereignty, our country’s territorial,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo declared then.

In 2016, an Indonesian naval vessel also fired on a Chinese fishing boat accused of illegal fishing near Natuna, following a series of confrontations that year.

That same year Indonesia also destroyed 23 foreign fishing boats from Malaysia and Vietnam accused of illegal fishing in Indonesian waters.

China has not claimed the Natuna islands but says it has nearby fishing rights within a self-proclaimed “nine-dash line” that includes most of the energy-rich South China Sea.

That claim is disputed by some Southeast Asian countries and not recognised internationally by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.