The Options Of Indonesia For Facing China In South China Sea – OpEd


In early 2022, the Chinese ship CCG5302 will be the first to shadow oil drilling in the North Natuna Sea. This is a continuation of China’s protests against Indonesia in early December 2021, to stop drilling for oil and natural gas. The Beijing government argues that the activities carried out by Indonesia have violated the sovereignty of China which is based on the nine dash-line claims. 

The protest is believed to be related to oil reserves in the Tuna Block working area (WK), which is off the coast of East Natuna, right on the Indonesia-Vietnam border.

The sovereignty tension between Beijing and Jakarta was responded exclusively by Muhammad Farhan, the Security Committee in Parliament, “Our reply was very firm, that we are not going to stop the drilling because it is our sovereign right.” Farhan continued, “It (the letter) was a bit threatening because it was the first effort of China’s diplomats to push their nine-dash line agenda against our rights under the Law of the Sea.”

In late August and early October 2021, a report from the Jakarta, Indonesia-based study center, the Asia Maritime Transparency and Initiative (AMTI), and the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI) shows that the Chinese ship, Haiyang Dizhi 10 is moving slowly in the adjacent Block D-Alpha grid pattern, oil reserves and gas also in the contested waters, worth $500 billion. On the other hand, the acceleration carried out by the ship is suspected of taking samples of hydraulic data in Indonesian waters. 

This case overshadows Indonesia and threatens the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). massive movement since 2019 and 2020. At that time, the Indonesian government expressed a protest against the Chinese government regarding the violation of extraction of natural resources. Indonesia refers to the illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing regulations and the 1982 United Nations Convention Law of Sea (UNCLOS). The Indonesian government has also agreed to the 2016 arbitration regulation decision regarding the rejection of China’s claims. 

According to Aan Kurnia, Head of the Vice-Admiral of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI), in 2022, Natuna’s security will still be a priority. That is, Aan emphasized that the moves that China would make would be aggressive. Thus, this becomes a challenge for Bakamla in maintaining Indonesia’s sovereignty. 

Therefore, Indonesia must take firm steps in addressing this issue, especially against the Beijing government. 

First, to push China away from North Natuna, Indonesia must involve a strong military strategy. Although the budget is still below that of Singapore, Indonesia is already planning to increase its military budget in 2022 by 13%, which is Rp. 133.9 trillion. The budget is expected to be used better and can be effective in regulating the purchase of defense equipment to protect North Natuna. 

Indonesia needs to ‘take advantage of the military power of the United States. The US, which has become a maritime opponent of China against the South China Sea claims, has recently given an increase in its position in Southeast Asia, especially against Indonesia. The Garuda Shield exercise, which has been built since 2009, needs to be improved. 

At the end of July 2021, the personnel deployed by Indonesia were still relatively low compared to the US. Based on a report from Asia Nikkei, the Indonesian military contributed only 2,246 personnel. Meanwhile, the US lowered 2,282 personnel. 

In addition, Indonesia also needs to improve communication with other US military partners such as Japan, Britain, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia. These countries have the same policy of opposing China in the Taiwan Strait and the Senkaku Islands through the Talisman Saber exercise.

Of course, the increase in military capability implemented by Indonesia can put pressure on China in North Natuna. 

Second, the Indonesian government should be able to take advantage of the integration of the National Innovation Research Agency (BRIN) to explore research in North Natuna. This research should be able to be carried out for Indonesia in finding quality natural resources to shift China’s position in Natuna. 

According to Aristyo Darmawan, Lecturer of International Law, University of Indonesia, he argued, “Indonesia must increase its marine scientific research activities in the North Natuna Sea. It is beyond dispute that the area is Indonesia’s EEZ; but evidence of consistent use and exploitation of the resources in the area will serve to deter Chinese forays into the area”

Third, China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner. In 2021, the trade figure between the two countries will reach USD 85.3 billion. This figure is considered the largest in the last 20 years. China is also an investment field and has made mega projects in Indonesia such as Kereta Cepat Indonesia-China (KCIC). 

This has made the two countries have strong economic ties. 

Indonesia must realize that China does need Indonesia, especially for the realization of the Belt and Road Initiatives. In this case, Indonesia could use economic leverage to put pressure on China by suspending Chinese investments in the country or expelling the Chinese Ambassador in Jakarta.

*M Habib Pashya, Researcher at the Center of Indonesia-China Studies 

M Habib Pashya

M Habib Pashya is a Master's student at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). His research focuses on China's foreign policy, Indonesia's foreign policy, and US-Taiwan-China relations.

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