Indonesia's role important after Hague ruling: The Jakarta Post

The South China Sea is seen on a globe for sale at a bookstore in Beijing, on June 15, 2016.
The South China Sea is seen on a globe for sale at a bookstore in Beijing, on June 15, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

Now that the Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled in favour of the Philippines in its dispute with China over maritime rights and jurisdictions in the South China Sea, Indonesia must respond appropriately and wisely to help weather the storm that is bound to follow. 

Beijing has said all along that it would not abide by the ruling of the The Hague-based tribunal, refusing to take part in the hearing since Manila filed the case in January 2013.

China has warned of repercussions if anyone tried to implement the court's decision. What exactly this threat amounts to is anybody's guess at this stage, but Indonesia is now called upon to step up its diplomacy to prevent an escalation of the tension on our doorstep.

The wording of the court's decision is clear: China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to areas that fall under the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ); China has violated the Philippines' sovereign rights with its oil exploration activities, construction of artificial islands and allowance of Chinese fishermen to operate in the area; China's large scale land reclamation activities are harmful to the environment and marine life, and they are incompatible with the obligations of a state during a dispute resolution proceeding. 

Indonesia will be consistent with its long-held policy of supporting and respecting international rules, including decisions made by UN bodies like the court in The Hague, which deals with the 1982 UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

In 2002, Indonesia had to swallow its pride when the International Court of Justice gave sovereignty over Sipadan and Ligitan, two small islands off Borneo, to Malaysia. 

It would be nice if Indonesia could persuade China to take a page from its own bitter history of losing those islands by accepting the arbitrator's decision, even though it only pertains to maritime rights and jurisdictions, and not sovereignty rights.

But such an outcome is unlikely. 

China has not lost any territory, and it should not feel that it has lost face. Manila and its allies, including the US, should not bask in the glory of the South China Sea decision.

The last thing anyone wants now is for tensions to escalate and for countries to declare allegiances with certain parties in the conflict.


This would polarise Asia and revive a new cold war, this time between China and the US.

There are no winners or losers.

Instead, this ruling provides an opening for countries with territorial disputes in the South China Sea to sit down and resolve their differences by peaceful means, as they have all agreed to the 2002 Asean-China declaration to adopt a code of conduct on the South China Sea. 

Although Indonesia has its own dispute with China over fishing rights in the Natuna Sea, and even if the arbitration ruling strengthens its case against Beijing, Jakarta would be better off putting aside this issue for now. 

It is far more urgent for Indonesia to help defuse the tension arising from this week's ruling.

But as the largest member of Asean, and as the third-largest country in Asia, it is incumbent that Indonesia does not take sides. 

This is not the first time that Indonesia has been called upon to row between two reefs.

This will be the real test of Jakarta's diplomatic mettle.


The Jakarta Post is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.