Fishing spat won't hurt Beijing ties, says Jakarta

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel seen in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands on March 29, 2014.
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel seen in the disputed Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands on March 29, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesian officials insist the incident near the Natuna Islands is not a border dispute

China has yet to officially respond to Indonesia's protest over the dispute involving two Chinese vessels in the Natunas, but the spat is unlikely to hurt economic relations between the two countries, say two Indonesian ministers.

On Saturday, a Chinese patrol boat prevented the Indonesian authorities from detaining a Chinese boat that was allegedly fishing illegally in Indonesia's territorial waters.

Yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Mohammad Fachir stressed that the incident, which took place in waters off Indonesia's Natuna Islands, was not a border dispute.

"What should be underlined here is that Indonesia and China do not have a border problem," Dr Fachir told Detik news.

Indonesia has not sought mediation with China, he said, adding that his country's next course of action would depend on China's official clarifications to its protest.

 
 
 

There has been no response from Beijing yet, said Dr Fachir, but measures taken by Jakarta to resolve the conflict will ensure stability, cooperation and good bilateral relations between both countries.

China is a major foreign investor in Indonesia, but economic relations between them are unlikely to be affected by the dispute, said Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro yesterday.

"The presidents of China and Indonesia are very close," he told Reuters news agency. "In terms of the South China Sea, we don't have any issue."

Tensions flared on Monday after Indonesia accused a Chinese coast guard patrol boat of breaching its sovereign rights by forcibly preventing local maritime authorities from seizing the Chinese fishing boat Kway Fey.

China, however, maintained that the Kway Fey was "in traditional Chinese fishing grounds", a claim Indonesia has strongly rebutted.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions in the region due to overlapping claims by Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam in the South China Sea.

Indonesia is not a party to the territorial dispute, but it does not recognise the "nine-dash line" that China uses as the basis for its claims in the area.

The two countries, however, agree that the Natunas and the waters around them belong to Indonesia. The Indonesian navy yesterday said patrols in the Natunas will be "intensified", although it has yet to beef up its fleet in the area.

Navy chief of staff Admiral Ade Supandi said in The Jakarta Post that the incident involving the Chinese coast guard vessel was "a fishing dispute" and not "a defence issue".

The fleet assigned to patrol the Natunas and the Karimata Strait comprises five naval warships, said Admiral Ade.

"We will only increase our fleet in accordance with an escalation," he added.

Meanwhile, the two Taiwan- flagged vessels that evaded Indonesian maritime authorities in a separate incident along the Strait of Malacca on Monday are due to arrive in Singapore today.

The Sheng Te Tsai and Lien I Hsing No. 116 fishing boats were spotted poaching in waters off the north-eastern coast of Sumatra by an Indonesian patrol boat.

Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has demanded that Indonesia provide evidence to support its allegations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Fishing spat won't hurt Beijing ties, says Jakarta'. Print Edition | Subscribe