Natunas to be developed to 'reinforce national sovereignty'

Indonesian navy officers aboard KRI Imam Bonjol (far left) inspecting a Chinese-flagged fishing boat near the Natuna Islands.
Indonesian navy officers aboard KRI Imam Bonjol (far left) inspecting a Chinese-flagged fishing boat near the Natuna Islands.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia has big plans for the Natuna Islands, primarily in the fishery sector where it aims to raise its catchment capacity from 9.3 per cent to about 14 per cent this year.

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Rizal Ramli said the move is part of a wide-ranging strategy to reinforce its national sovereignty over the cluster of islands.

"We want to have a major initiative, to accelerate the development of the Natuna Islands and its surrounding areas," he said during a press briefing in Jakarta yesterday.

Aside from enhancements to the local fishery sector, the plan also involves transforming the Natunas into a tourist destination, tapping the area's rich oil and gas resources as well as beefing up defence of the islands in the South China Sea.

His comments come a day after an international Arbitral Tribunal ruled that China's claims in the massive waterway are illegal.

 

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims. Indonesia is not a party to the disputes but became concerned after Beijing, in March, said the waters around the Natunas, which lie within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone are part of its "traditional fishing grounds". As a result of the claims, Chinese fishing boats have regularly been caught poaching in Indonesia's waters.

Mr Rizal said Indonesia's "territorial integrity is agreed and approved" by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Referring to Tuesday's ruling, he added that Indonesia and China have a strong strategic relationship which should not be jeopardised by disputes over "incidents in fishing".

Besides expanding the number of local fishing boats in the Natunas, Mr Rizal said there are also plans to build cold-storage facilities.

Francis Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'Natunas to be developed to 'reinforce national sovereignty''. Print Edition | Subscribe