Indonesia says it feels efforts on South China Sea 'sabotaged' after latest dispute with China

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel is pictured on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, in the South China Sea, on March 29, 2014.
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel is pictured on the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, in the South China Sea, on March 29, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (REUTERS) -  Indonesia "feels sabotaged" in its efforts to maintain peace in the disputed South China Sea and may bring its latest maritime dispute with China to an international court, a minister said on Monday (March 21).

Earlier on Monday, the Indonesian foreign minister said a Chinese coastguard vessel had "breached" Indonesia's sovereign rights when it prevented Indonesian authorities from detaining a Chinese fishing vessel in waters near the contested South China Sea.

China says its fishing vessel was operating in "traditional Chinese fishing grounds".

"Indonesia has for years been pursuing and promoting peace in the South China Sea. With yesterday's incident we feel interrupted and sabotaged in our efforts," fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters after meeting Chinese embassy officials in Jakarta. 

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi had met Chinese Embassy representatives in Jakarta after the incident involving a Chinese coast guard vessel, a Chinese fishing vessel, and an Indonesian patrol ship in the northern Natuna Sea.

"At the meeting we conveyed our strong protest over... the breach by the Chinese coast guard of Indonesia's sovereign rights, " Mr Marsudi told reporters in a press conference.

Indonesian authorities attempted to detain a Chinese vessel they said was fishing illegally in its waters, an Indonesian official said earlier. Eight Chinese crew members were detained but the Chinese coastguard prevented Indonesia from securing the fishing vessel.

China said the fishing vessel was operating in “traditional Chinese fishing grounds” and has demanded the fishermen be released.

"When it comes to fishery disputes, or maritime issues, China is always ready to work with Indonesia to solve these disputes through negotiations and dialogue," Chinese embassy official Sun Weide told reporters in Jakarta after meeting the Indonesian fisheries minister.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a strategic shipping corridor, also rich in fish and natural gas, where several South-east Asian countries also have overlapping claims. Indonesia is not a claimant.

But China and Indonesia do not contest the sovereignty of the Natuna islands and the seas around them: Both agree they are part of Indonesia’s Riau Province.

But tension between the two sides does flare every now and then, usually over Chinese fishing boats.

In March 2013, armed Chinese vessels confronted an Indonesian fisheries patrol boat and demanded the release of Chinese fishermen who had been apprehended in Natuna waters. Fearing for his safety, the captain of the Indonesian boat complied.

Similarly, in 2010, a Chinese maritime enforcement vessel compelled an Indonesian patrol boat to release another illegal Chinese trawler.

Indonesia has no plans to boost military resources in the remote, resource-rich Natuna Islands in response to the latest incident, the defence minister said.