JAKARTA: Indonesia on Monday (Jan 6) deployed four additional warships to the Natuna Islands, after Chinese vessels refused to leave the area.
The warships will join four other vessels that are currently patrolling in the Natuna area, near the disputed South China Sea.
“We already have four warships there, so tomorrow there will be eight warships in the waters.
We also have hundreds of personnel there,” Commander Fajar Tri Rohadi, a Public Affairs Officer with the First Fleet Command of the Indonesia Navy told CNA.
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Dozens of Chinese fishing boats entered the waters of Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Natuna last month. Subsequently, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta and issued a protest.
Beijing has insisted that the Natuna waters are traditional fishing grounds for Chinese fishermen.
The Indonesian Airforce and Maritime Security Board (BAKAMLA) are also patrolling the area, according to Commander Rohadi.
They have approached the Chinese vessels by communicating through radio.
“We hope they will leave. The fishing boats are fishing illegally. If they don’t leave, we want to persuade them so they understand the Indonesian law.
"It is Indonesia’s sovereign right,” he said.
He said there are Chinese fishing vessels at around 30 locations. At each spot, there can be up to two boats.
Three Chinese coast guard vessels have also been seen in the area.
“We have to act in a precise and smart way. We want to enforce the law without heating things up.
"But our law has been ratified internationally, so you must follow international law. People know the waters belong to Indonesia,” Commander Rohadi added.
MORE THAN 100 INDONESIAN FISHERMEN TO SAIL TO NATUNA
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD reportedly said on Monday that Indonesian fishermen will also be sent to Natuna.
About 120 fishermen will sail to the area to counter the Chinese boats, the minister said during a meeting with fishermen from Java’s North Coast.
“The international law says that the waters they (the Chinese vessels) entered are our legitimate waters, Indonesia’s, and we are entitled to explore and exploit the riches of the sea there, including the 200m below them.
They have now entered (the area) because we are less present there,” the minister said.
READ: Indonesia rejects China's claims over South China Sea
Last week, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi issued a statement noting that there have been violations by Chinese vessels in the Indonesian EEZ.
"The Indonesian EEZ was established internationally by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982 ... China is a party to UNCLOS 1982. Therefore, it is an obligation for China to respect the implementation of the 1982 UNCLOS," said the statement.
"Indonesia will never recognise the Nine-Dash Line, a unilateral claim made by China that has no legal recognition according to the international law, especially UNCLOS 1982," Mdm Marsudi added.
China claims most of the South China Sea, an important trade route which is believed to contain large quantities of oil and natural gas.
Several Southeast Asian states dispute China’s territorial claims and are competing with Beijing to exploit the resources there.
Beijing has deployed military assets on artificial islands constructed on shoals and reefs in disputed parts of the sea.
Indonesia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea but in 2016, the country clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands.
Following the dispute, Indonesia detained Chinese fishermen caught in the Natuna waters and built a military base in the area.