Jakarta, Beijing should cool down on sea disputes

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-23 0:23:01

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has on Monday unusually lodged a strong protest with China over a fishery dispute between the two sides. The incident began on Saturday last week when a Chinese fishing boat was harassed by Indonesian armed ships. A Chinese coast guard vessel later left for the site, and has prevented Indonesia from detaining the boat. Retno has summoned the Chinese side, while noting that the Chinese coast guard has violated Indonesia's sovereignty and jurisdiction over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and sea territory.

Jakarta claimed that the incident happened near the Natuna Islands. But the Chinese foreign ministry indicated that it happened in traditional Chinese fishing grounds, and the Chinese fishing vessel had not entered Indonesian waters. The captain and eight crew members were detained before the Chinese coast guard vessel arrived. China has urged Indonesia to immediately release them and ensure their personal safety.

The Natuna Islands belong to Indonesia. China has no objection to it. But Indonesia's EEZ is overlapping part of the nine-dash line, which makes fishery disputes in the area inevitable.

The Sino-Indonesian relationship has been developing rapidly these years, and both sides have exercised self-restraint over maritime controversies. China has in particular taken a low-key approach when it comes to such disputes, in order to prevent them from affecting the big picture of bilateral ties.

Fishery disputes should be handled only in the realm of fishery disputes, rather than being politicized. This should be a consensus between Beijing and Jakarta.

China does not wish for disputes with several neighboring countries in the South China Sea all at the same time. Meanwhile, there is no need to avoid mentioning the fact that different levels of divergences exist between Beijing and many countries. If China wants to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime interests, it will be bound to face certain conflicts. Beijing will not escalate tensions, but it will neither make unprincipled concessions to please other nations.

Western public opinion seems to be excited when the Indonesian Foreign Minister protested against China. But Beijing does not need to care about it. The US and Japan hope to see more countries in the South China Sea "uniting against China." However, such a scene will never happen. Those regional states care more about their own interests, and do not want to see the Sea trapped in the disputes and conflicts. They all need to get down to real business such as economic and social development.

China and Indonesia are friendly neighbors, crucial trade and cooperative partners to each other. The joint high-speed rail project linking Jakarta and Bandung, which China has managed to bid for, should be the focal point of bilateral ties. Jakarta should not let the attention over relations between the two swing toward the sea.

Posted in: Observer

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