Indonesia beefs up patrols after 'suspicious' Chinese activity

World | REUTERS 16 Sep 2020

Indonesia will increase maritime security operations near some of its islands in the South China Sea after a Chinese coast guard vessel was spotted nearby, raising suspicions about its intentions, a senior security official said yesterday.

The vessel entered Indonesia's 200-mile exclusive economic zone off the northern Natuna islands on Saturday and left on Monday after radio challenges over jurisdiction, Aan Kurnia, chief of the maritime security agency Bakamla, said.

Under international law, innocent passage is permitted through another country's zone, but Aan said the vessel was lingering too long.

"Because this one floated, then went circling, we became suspicious. We approached it and learned that it was a Chinese coast guard vessel," he said, adding the navy and coast guard would boost operations there.

Wang Wenbin, China's foreign ministry spokesman, said the ship was undertaking "normal patrol duties in waters under Chinese jurisdiction."

Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its zone in 2017 as the North Natuna Sea, pushing back against China's maritime territorial ambitions.

While China has made no claim to islands, the presence of its coast guard nearly 2,000 kilometers off its mainland has concerned Indonesia, after numerous encounters between Chinese vessels in the zones of Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, which disrupted fishing and energy activities.

China's coast guard often operates alongside fishing boats described by experts as state-backed militia.

The "nine-dash line" on Chinese maps denoting its vast maritime claims includes waters off the Natuna islands. An international arbitration panel in 2016 invalidated that line.

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