Diana Mariska – TheIndonesia (Suara.com)
TheIndonesia.id – A scholar has claimed that while the South Korean government fully respects Indonesia’s sovereignty, and despite the two countries enjoying a closer-than-ever relations, it would be rather complicated for South Korea to take definitive action against several repeated maritime claims made by China in South China Sea, or SCS.
Cho Wondeuk, a research professor for the Center for ASEAN-Indian Studies at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS), said South Korea, just like many countries, focuses on certain aspects and policies that are based on its “strategic circumstances and geopolitics”.
Therefore, there are limits to how far the East Asian country will go to provide support (in any form) for Indonesia in the long-standing territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea – or also locally known as the North Natuna Sea.
“Different countries have different interests [that are] based on their strategic environment, so we are different from Australia, the United States, Japan, India, and Indonesia,” Cho said. “[And] in that regard, we might consider supporting the general principles, rules-based order, respect the sovereignty – so we can [raise] voice against the violations of rules-based order, in principle. However, we cannot actively join some kind of tangible and physical military exercise targeting countries.”
Speaking at the Indonesian Next Generation Journalist Network on Korea workshop initiated by the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia (FPCI) and Korea Foundation, Cho also noted that the South China Sea has become a “central theater” for a heating competition between world’s leading powers the US and China.
And this includes the Chinese authorities continuously exercising the nine-dash line narrative to justify its claims over some territories within the South China Sea.
It is a widely known fact that despite acknowledging Indonesia’s sovereignty over Natuna, Chinese fishing vessels continue to carry out fishing activities in the North Natuna Sea because it overlaps with their nine-dash line.
A provocation made by the Chinese government in 2020 was probably one of the biggest occurrences that showed the scale of the territorial dispute in recent years.
In January 2020, Indonesia was involved in a standoff with China after Chinese coast guards accompanied Chinese fishing vessels into Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in Natuna. According to the 1982 United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNLCOS), Indonesia has sovereign rights over the EEZ.
Several actions have been taken by the Indonesian government since the standoff, including sending large fishing boats from Java to occupy the North Natuna Sea and starting the discussion on omnibus law on maritime security affairs that aims to resolve the overlapping tasks and authorities of several different agencies to guard Indonesian waters.
The Indonesian Navy also established the Fleet Command that is tasked to deal with challenges and threats in Indonesian waters, including the continuously prone-to-tension South China Sea.
“It’s no secret that the situation at SCS will be a challenge for us all. I think this is all well-known and is no longer a secret,” chief of Navy Admiral Yudo Margono said on February 3.
The Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD also said the Indonesian government is committed to create a strong economy in small and outermost islands, including for local people surrounding the North Natuna Sea, as it’s seen as an ‘effective’ mean to safeguard the area.
Meanwhile, defense-wise, Mahfud said the government will continue to enhance defense from and to increase presence in the air, land, and sea.