Indonesian President Joko Widodo vowed to enforce his country’s maritime rights amid ongoing tension with China over rights to exploit sea resources in the area, during his visit in the region of Natuna Islands on Wednesday, January 08.
It was his second visit to the island chain in the South China Sea in his presidency. His first was in 2016, where he held a cabinet meeting aboard a warship, following a similar flare-up of tensions due to Beijing asserting claims on nearby waters.
“I’m here to make sure that legal sovereignty over our maritime resources in the exclusive economic zone [EEZ] is enforced,” Widodo said, according to remarks released by his office.
The president also inspected two warships and an air force base near Ranai, the main town in the island group.
Widodo later tweeted that he was informed by his military chief that there were foreign ships in Indonesia’s EEZ, but not in its territorial sea.
“In that zone, international vessels can pass freely, but Indonesia has a right to resources within it. Indonesia has sovereignty rights to arrest or expel foreign vessels that are trying to exploit the resources illegally,” he said on Twitter.
The EEZ is an area extending up to 200 nautical miles from the baseline of a coastal state. Territorial seas extend 12 nautical miles from that baseline.
Jakarta has deployed at least eight warships in the region off the Natunas to ward off encroaching Chinese fishing vessels, and sent four F-16 fighter jets to the area on Tuesday.
On January 05, military officials said about 30 Chinese ships had been sighted in Indonesian territory, accompanied by two Chinese coast guard ships and a fishing surveillance vessel.
The previous month, the Foreign Ministry summoned Chinese Ambassador Xiao Qian to protest the presence of at least 65 Chinese ships in Indonesia’s EEZ off the Natuna islands.
China has insisted that its fishermen have legitimate rights to operate in the area.
In Natuna, Widodo met local fishermen at the newly established Integrated Marine and Fisheries Center.
“The government wants our marine resources in Natuna to be exploited for the utmost benefit of the people here,” he told the fishermen.
“Don’t ever question or doubt. Natuna has always been Indonesia,” he added. (Source: RFA)