Indonesia has joined some neighboring countries in opposing China’s claims in the South China Sea by lodging a diplomatic note to the United Nations.
Jakarta pointed out the Indonesian government’s support for a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which favored the Philippines in a case that Manila brought against China over a territorial dispute in the resources-rich sea.
“Indonesia reiterates that the Nine-Dash line map implying historic rights claim clearly lacks international legal basis and is tantamount to upsetting UNCLOS 1982,” said the letter from Indonesia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, referring to a boundary on Chinese maps that encompasses Beijing’s claims in the maritime region.
“As a State Party to UNCLOS 1982, Indonesia has consistently called for the full compliance toward international law, including UNCLOS 1982. Indonesia hereby declares that it is not bound by any claims made in contravention to international law, including UNCLOS 1982,” the letter stated.
The letter, a copy of which was posted by an Asian journalist to Twitter, referred to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the international treaty adopted nearly 40 years ago.
|Indonesian President Joko Widodo at Selat Lampa Port, Natuna Islands, Indonesia on Jan 8, 2020. Photo: AP
Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) under Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said Indonesia’s action broke new ground.
“This note verbale is the first time that any of the Philippines’ Southeast Asian neighbors has stood up and explicitly endorsed its 2016 arbitration win against China. Officials in Jakarta have been pushing this for four years and it looks like they’ve finally won out over political fears about China,” he told BenarNews.
The Indonesian letter is the latest in a flurry of letters from ASEAN countries and China following a Malaysian submission to the UN in December 2019 that claimed sovereignty over an extended continental shelf in the South China Sea off its northern coast, potentially an area with significant undersea resources.
The Philippines and Vietnam weighed in, submitting protests to China’s territorial claims. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), alternately chaired by Vietnam this year.
The Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam are among countries that, along with China, have claims in the South China Sea. Indonesia is not among the claimant countries, but in early 2020 and 2016, tensions flared between Jakarta and Beijing over the presence of Chinese fishing boats swarming in South China Sea waters near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.
In 2002, the 10-nation ASEAN bloc and China agreed on a Declaration of Conduct (DOC), which was a statement of principles on how parties should behave in the South China Sea. But completing a more detailed - and binding - Code of Conduct (COC) has proved much harder.
Negotiations began in earnest in 2016 with a tentative deadline for acceptance in 2021. A draft of the text of the agreement has been released.
Observers have said that Beijing would like to end negotiations early without touching basic but contentious sections including what it actually claims in the sea region.
“China could, by forcing an early resolution to the Code of Conduct, just shut everybody up,” Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales, told BenarNews in April.
Earlier this month, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi issued a statement saying her government was closely following recent developments in the sea region.
“Indonesia expresses its concerns on recent activities in the South China Sea which may potentially escalate tensions at a time where global collective efforts are vital in fighting Covid-19” she said during a speech on May 6.