Jakarta pushes for patrols by S-E Asian nations in South China Sea

Structures built by China on the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea. China claims most of the South China Sea, and has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and air strips. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • Indonesia has lobbied South-east Asian countries to carry out maritime patrols in the disputed South China Sea, claimed in most part by China, to improve security, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said yesterday.

Indonesia said it is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea dispute. However, it has clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands, and has expanded its military presence in the area. It has also renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone, asserting its own maritime claim.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne held talks yesterday with their Indonesian counterparts Retno Marsudi and Mr Ryacudu in Sydney, ahead of an Asean summit starting today.

Australia is hosting the meeting, despite not being a member of the 10-nation bloc, as it seeks to tighten political and trade ties in the region amid China's rising influence.

"For the South China Sea, I went around to friends - Asean defence ministers - so that each country that faces the South China Sea patrols up to 200 nautical miles, around 230km," Mr Ryacudu told reporters at a joint press conference.

Indonesia is focusing on three areas, notably the Sulu Sea, the Malacca Strait and the seas around the coast of Thailand, Mr Ryacudu said, referring to existing cooperation with Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.

"If we look at the (borders) from Vietnam down to Indonesia and to the Philippines, we can see we have secured almost half of the South China Sea (in areas) we are already patrolling," he said.

China claims most of the South China Sea, an important trade route which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas. The country has been building artificial islands on reefs, some with ports and air strips.

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines - all members of Asean - and Taiwan also have claims in the sea.

China's foreign minister said last week that China's resolve to protect peace and stability in the South China Sea was unshakeable, and that outside forces were attempting to muddy the waters.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'Jakarta pushes for patrols by S-E Asian nations in South China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe