JAKARTA: Indonesia on Tuesday (Jun 21) slammed China’s claims of a ‘traditional fishing ground’ near Indonesia's Natuna islands, in the latest standoff between the two countries over allegations of illegal fishing.
Tensions between the two countries are high after the Indonesian navy fired warning shots at Chinese fishing vessels in waters off Natuna islands on Friday and detained some sailors.
Following the clash on Friday, China's foreign ministry stated that "China and Indonesia have overlapping claims for maritime rights and interests" in the area. Previously, China had defended its actions by saying that it was operating in "traditional Chinese fishing grounds".
Indonesian Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Susi Pudjiastuti told reporters at a press conference that China had previously said it had no issues with Indonesia. She said this meant that Beijing respected Indonesia’s sovereignty and its Exclusive Economic Zone.
According to the minister, the two countries do not have any maritime agreements to cooperate within a specified territory, and so Chinese fishing vessels would be treated like any other boat caught fishing illegally in the country’s waters.
"We are not aware of it, we don’t know of its existence and we don’t acknowledge anybody’s claims which say that there is a traditional fishing zone in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone; except in one territory which we have signed upon in agreement with Malaysia, the Strait of Malacca,” she said.
A total of 57 vessels have been caught in Indonesia's waters since January. One boat belonged to Thailand, four were from Malaysia, three belonged to China and 49 were Vietnamese vessels.
Chinese coast guards have intercepted Indonesia's attempts to detain its vessels.
The Indonesian navy's Western Fleet commander, Rear Admiral A Taufiq R, said China was trying to “mark their territory” with the presence of the coast guards. He also denied Chinese allegations that warning shots fired by Indonesia had injured a Chinese crew member.
Ms Susi reiterated that Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone was part of Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty.
“Once again I don’t care which country it is, or what vessel it is, or whose vessel it is. If you steal our fish, then you stole from us, and I want to assert that we, along with our taskforce, do not take this lightly. We will not consider relations between countries in this matter. What we see is a serious offense.”
According to the minister, more boats have been caught because of intensive maritime patrols. The navy, officials from the ministry, and the task force set up to combat illegal fishing would conduct routine operations together in the near future, she said.