Indonesia asks Japan to invest in Natuna islands following stand-off with China

Indonesia asks Japan to invest in Natuna islands following stand-off with China

Natuna Islands Jokowi
This handout picture taken and released on Jan 8, 2020 by the Presidential Palace shows Indonesia's President Joko Widodo during his visit to a military base in the Natuna islands, which border the South China Sea. (Photo: AFP/Presidential Palace)

JAKARTA: Indonesia's President Joko Widodo on Friday (Jan 10) asked Japan to step up investment in fisheries and energy in the Natuna islands following a stand-off with China in waters near the disputed South China Sea.

Widodo made the request during a visit to Jakarta by Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, the president's office said in a statement.

"I want to invite Japan to invest in Natuna," he told Motegi, adding that Japan was one of Indonesia's major economic partners.

Widodo visited Natuna on Wednesday to assert Indonesia's sovereignty over the cluster of islands and the waters around them, after reports that Chinese coastguard and fishing vessels had entered Indonesia's exclusive economic zone several times since last month.

China has not claimed the Natuna islands themselves but says it has nearby fishing rights within a self-proclaimed Nine-Dash Line - a line on Chinese maps that it says shows its territory and waters.

The line loops far south from China and includes most of the South China Sea, but it is a claim that is not recognised internationally. Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have rival claims in the South China Sea.

READ: Indonesia rejects China's claims over South China Sea

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters Widodo had asked Japan to invest in fisheries, energy and tourism in Natuna.

"We also agreed to strengthen coastguard coordination," she said.

Retno Japan Indonesia Natuna
Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi (C) is greeted by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (R) at the foreign ministry office in Jakarta on Jan 10, 2020. (Photo: AFP/BAY ISMOYO)

Indonesia had stepped up air and sea patrols in the area and summoned China's ambassador over the appearance of the ships. An Indonesian military spokesman said the vessels left the area after Widodo's trip.

READ: Indonesia deploys fighter jets in stand-off with China

READ: Indonesia deploys 4 additional warships to Natuna amid standoff with Chinese vessels

China says it is in contact with Indonesia through diplomatic channels to resolve differences and uphold stability in the region.

Motegi, speaking through a translator after a meeting with Marsudi, did not refer to China but said Japan was wary about the situation in the South China Sea.

"We shared a serious concern regarding efforts to change with force the status quo unilaterally and we confirmed continuing close collaboration," he said.

READ: Commentary - Indonesia’s high-stakes stand-off with China in the South China Sea

Japan last year gave Indonesia 100 billion rupiah (US$7.26 million) to build a fish market in Natuna, which will be named Tsukiji after the famous Tokyo market, media reported.

Construction of the market in Natuna, and markets on other Indonesian islands, will begin this year, Motegi said.

Source: Reuters/jt