(RFA) - Indonesia is boosting patrols in its maritime territory in the South China Sea after incursions by Chinese coast guard and fishing boats in recent days.
The head of Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) said the country would defend its waters off the Natuna Islands – an archipelago at the southern reaches of the contested sea – after more than 60 Chinese ships trespassed in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in late December.
“We will be present there and we will stake our claim,” Vice Admiral Achmad Taufiqoerrohman, the chief of Bakamla, told reporters after meeting with cabinet ministers in Jakarta on Friday.
“The Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) will also exert their strength,” Achmad said.
He did not indicate how many additional personnel or ships would be deployed, saying those details were confidential.
TNI said it had deployed three ships, one maritime reconnaissance aircraft and an Indonesian Air Force plane to patrol Natuna waters. Another ship was on its way to the region from Jakarta, the military said in a statement.
After Jakarta lodged a diplomatic protest over the December incursion, Beijing’s foreign ministry defended the presence of Chinese boats around the Indonesian islands, saying that “China has rights and interests over the relevant waters.”
Chinese boats including three coast guard vessels were again spotted in Natuna waters on Friday, according to Indonesian media outlet Tempo.
“When we conduct air patrol this morning, we find 30 boats there. I have deployed more security personnel,” it quoted the Bakamla chief as saying.
Gas fields near the islands are believed to hold up to 226 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to data from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.
Following a series of encounters with Chinese ships in Indonesian waters in 2016, including one in which the Indonesian Navy fired warning shots at Chinese-flagged vessels, Indonesia further irritated Beijing by renaming the area the North Natuna Sea.
Jakarta then launched an ambitious five-point plan for developing the Natunas that involved military facilities, fisheries, tourism, oil and gas, and preserving the environment.
“It is our right to develop the Natuna waters,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters on Friday. “We would also like to emphasize again that there have been violations by Chinese vessels in Indonesia’s EEZ.”