JAKARTA • Energy company Pertamina plans to explore for oil and gas in areas close to Indonesia's maritime border in the South China Sea to assert the country's territorial rights, the upstream director of the state-owned company said.
"The government needs to have activities around the borders and one of Pertamina's strategies is to support this," Mr Syamsu Alam told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
He said Indonesia had lost sovereignty over two disputed islands in the past because it was not developing those areas.
"So, like the South China Sea and the borders in North Kalimantan, we need to have some activities there," he said.
China claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, with overlapping claims from Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. China's reclamation of rocky outcrops and development of infrastructure there has caused alarm around the region.
Indonesia is not a claimant but there is concern in Jakarta that Beijing believes its maritime territory includes areas around the Indonesian-ruled Natuna Islands. After an incident last month involving an Indonesian patrol boat and a Chinese coast guard vessel and fishing boat in what Indonesia said were its waters, Jakarta said it "felt sabotaged"in its efforts to maintain peace in the South China Sea.
China has said that it recognises Indonesia's sovereignty over the Natuna Islands.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he was not aware of Pertamina's plans.
"China and Indonesia do not have a territorial dispute," he told a daily news briefing.
Mr Alam did not spell out Pertamina's plans for development in the South China Sea but, when asked about security, he said: "Of course, we have to have support from the military." He did not elaborate on what role the military might play.
He said Pertamina has a three-year timeline for a technical and commercial evaluation of the East Natuna gas field, working with ExxonMobil, Thailand's PTT and Total.