JAKARTA • Indonesia yesterday said it rejected China's claims over a disputed part of the South China Sea as "having no legal basis", after protesting two days earlier to Beijing over the presence of a Chinese coastguard vessel in its territorial waters.
The boat had trespassed into Indonesia's exclusive economic zone off the coast of the northern islands of Natuna, resulting in Indonesian officials issuing a "strong protest" and summoning the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta.
Speaking in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that China had sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their waters and that both China and Indonesia have "normal" fishing activities in the area.
In a sharp rebuke, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement yesterday, calling for China to explain the "legal basis and clear borders" regarding its claims to the exclusive economic zone, as based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
"China's claims to the exclusive economic zone on the grounds that its fishermen have long been active there... have no legal basis and have never been recognised by the Unclos 1982," said the ministry.
Jakarta also noted that the argument had been refuted during China's legal defeat by the Philippines in 2016 over disputed South China claims at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Indonesia has no claims over the Spratly Islands, which lie to the north-east of the Natuna Islands.
The Foreign Ministry reiterated its stance that Indonesia is a non-claimant state in the dispute over the South China Sea and that it has no overlapping jurisdiction with China.
However, Jakarta has repeatedly clashed with Beijing over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands, detaining Chinese fishermen and expanding its military presence in the area.
Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, an important trade route which is believed to also contain large quantities of oil and natural gas.
Several South-east Asian states dispute China's territorial claims and are competing with Beijing to exploit the South China Sea's abundant hydrocarbon and fishing resources.
Beijing has raised the ante by deploying military assets on artificial islands constructed on shoals and reefs in disputed parts of the sea.
China's embassy in Indonesia was not immediately reachable for comment.