JAKARTA: Dozens of Chinese vessels which were fishing in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in Natuna are leaving the area, the Indonesian military said on Thursday (Jan 9), after days of stand-off.
The Chinese vessels entered the Natuna waters, near the disputed South China Sea last month, prompting Indonesia to summon the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta and deploying eight warships as well as four fighter jets to the area.
“The Chinese fishing vessels are gone, they are leaving the area heading north,” Commander of Joint Defense Area Command I, Vice Admiral Yudo Margono said in Jakarta.
“They are all getting out (of Indonesia’s EEZ)."
Indonesian authorities previously spotted three Chinese coast guard vessels in Natuna and as of Thursday, two were still in the area.
“The coast guards are mobile and today they were heading to Malaysia ... They were heading straight,” Vice Admiral Margono added.
This came just a day after President Joko Widodo visited Natuna to assert Indonesia's sovereignty.
During his one-day visit, Mr Widodo said that the waters belong to Indonesia.
"We have a district here, a regent, and a governor here.
There are no more debates. De facto, de jure, Natuna is Indonesia," he said on Wednesday.
INDONESIA TO KEEP UP PATROLS
Despite the Chinese vessels leaving the Indonesian EEZ, the vice admiral said Indonesia will continue to secure the area.
As of Thursday, there are seven warships and four fighter jets in Natuna, according to the authorities.
Normally there are around three or four warships in Natuna, the vice admiral said.
“Moving forward, I will look at the situation and the latest developments. If it is clear, it will return to usual with four warships in the area because the other waters also need to be patrolled.
"Tomorrow, I will go there again to make sure and there will also always be two patrol planes there,” he added.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry first protested about the presence of the Chinese fishing vessels in its EEZ late last month, but Beijing replied that China has traditionally been fishing in the waters.
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi then issued a statement on Jan 3 asserting that the Indonesian EEZ was established internationally by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982.
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.