China making inroads with grey zone tactics against Indonesia

Jakarta has tended to compartmentalise and downplay incidents in its North Natuna Sea exclusive economic zone. This encourages further incursions.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo visiting an Indonesian Navy ship at Selat Lampa Port on the Natuna islands in January 2020. PHOTO: JOKO WIDODO/FACEBOOK
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China has been subjecting Indonesia to maritime grey zone tactics - competitive acts between states short of all-out warfare. In the North Natuna Sea, Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) closest to the South China Sea, China has been mobilising its fishing vessels, to the accompaniment of its coastguard and maritime militia.

In recent years, there have been multiple public crises over China's illegal fishing activities in the area; the most recent occurred between December 2019 and January 2020. Conversations with Indonesia's maritime law enforcement officials, however, suggest that China's incursions have never truly stopped; they have only become less publicised.

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