Indonesia flexes military muscle after China spat

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 9 Jan 2020

Indonesia has deployed fighter jets and warships to patrol islands near the disputed South China Sea, the military said yesterday, escalating tensions with Beijing after a diplomatic spat over "trespassing" Chinese vessels.

President Joko Widodo also headed yesterday to the fishing-rich waters around the Natuna islands, which border the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China despite competing claims from other Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia.

The Indonesian military said it had deployed eight warships and four jet fighters ahead of Widodo's visit in an apparent bid to assert its sovereignty over the region.

"I have said many times Natuna is our sovereign territory," Widodo said. "There is nothing to be debated ... I hope this is clear."

A Chinese coast guard vessel was spotted in Indonesia's exclusive economic zone yesterday, the government said.

Indonesia's move to send in warships and fighter jets is not meant to make provocations but rather "protect our territory," said Air Commodore Ronny Irianto Moningka.

China's foreign ministry played down the incident and said there was "no dispute over territorial sovereignty" between Beijing and Jakarta - though the two have "overlapping claims for maritime rights" in the South China Sea.

Indonesia's move follows the deployment on Friday of around 600 personnel from the navy, army and air force to Natuna as the military launched what it called a regular patrol to secure the area due to the presence of foreign vessels in Indonesian waters.

Jakarta said it would also send hundreds of fishermen to the area to keep an eye out for foreign vessels.

That followed Indonesia summoning the Chinese ambassador last week and lodging a "strong protest" over a Chinese coast guard vessel escorting mainland fishing boats around the islands in mid-December. Beijing said it has "historic rights" in the region and that fishing boats had been carrying out "legal and reasonable" activities.

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