Chinese fishing vessels remain in Natuna amid diplomatic tension: Indonesian military

In this handout picture, Yudo Margono of the Indonesian military inspects troops at Natuna military base in the Riau islands on Jan 3, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Indonesian Military (TNI) has said that Chinese fishing vessels remained in waters off Natuna, Riau Islands, on Sunday (Jan 5) despite the ongoing diplomatic tug of war between Indonesia and China over the latter's naval manoeuvres in the region last week.

Joint Defence Area Command (Kogabwilhan) I commander Rear Admiral Yudo Margono said the foreign vessels had been seen catching fish in waters only 209km from Ranai, the capital of Natuna regency.

"The ships were accompanied by a couple of Chinese coastguard vessels and one fishing guard vessel," Rear Adm Yudo told the press on Sunday, as quoted by Antara news agency.

He said the TNI had deployed two warships in an official military operation to drive the foreign vessels out of Natuna.

"We've also been actively communicating with the Chinese coastguard vessels, urging them to leave on their own accord," he said, adding that the operation would last until the foreign vessels leave Indonesia's maritime regions.

"We are focusing on adding military power there. We will deploy four additional warships to drive out the foreign vessels tomorrow."

Following a series of naval manoeuvres by Chinese coastguard and fishing vessels in Natuna waters in the previous week, Indonesia summoned Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia Xiao Qian last Monday to lodge a formal protest, with the Foreign Ministry saying that Indonesia would never recognise China's Nine-Dash Line - the geographic expression of Beijing's sweeping claims over the South China Sea - because it was contrary to international law.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang insisted last Tuesday that the ships were performing "routine" activities to assert its sovereignty over the nearby Spratly Islands as well as its sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters nearby, adding that China would like to work with Indonesia to continue managing disputes properly through bilateral dialogue.

Indonesia responded last Wednesday by firmly rejecting the asserted historical claims over its exclusive economic zone in the North Natuna Sea.

The ministry said they were "unilateral, have no legal basis and have never been recognised by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea".

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