Indonesia has renamed the resource-rich northern region around its Natuna islands, which lie off the southern end of the South China Sea, as the North Natuna Sea, a government official announced Friday in presenting an updated national map.
The decision to change the name of the sea region north of the islands was spurred by an international tribunal’s ruling last year that went against China’s claim to the entire South China Sea through its “nine-dash line,” Arif Havas Oegroseno, the deputy of maritime sovereignty at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, told a news conference in Jakarta.
Based on a challenge filed by the Philippines, the ruling declared that atolls or land formations in the South China Sea that could not sustain human habitation could not be used as the basis to claim a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. Previously, the Philippines had renamed it the West Philippine Sea.
“We updated the sea column on the northern side of Natuna so its name is in line with its continental shelf. Our national team agreed to name it North Natuna Sea,” Arif told reporters at his office.
Indonesia will register the new name with the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO).
The official map was last updated in 1953 and territorial borders were determined based on old documents following Indonesia’s independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1945. The name Natuna Sea started appearing unofficially in 2002.
The renaming could signify that Indonesia is sending a political message about its sovereignty over the area, according to I. Made Andi Arsana, a professor of geodesy at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
“It’s a unilateral action but it is acceptable, although it may not change the international consensus that the area is known globally as South China Sea,” he told BenarNews. “It’s directed more toward domestic use of the name, although it may get international recognition when the government registers the name to the related international agencies such as the IHO.”
In June 2016, after years of neutrality over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Indonesia’s military announced that it would maintain a hardline stance toward safeguarding its EEZ in the waters of the Natunas. It deployed naval ships and aircraft to patrol the maritime area against vessels trespassing into the zone.
The new map shows a clear blue line of Indonesia’s continental shelf in the Natuna Sea – south of the islands by that name – and the North Natuna Sea, along with purple dash lines that delineate contested borders of EEZs, with Malaysia to the east and west and Vietnam to the north.
“Economy-wise, in the long term we will have clear boundaries on natural resources exploitation,” Arif said. The new designation is expected to provide clarity for Indonesian fishermen over where to fish and for the navy and law enforcement agencies over where to conduct patrols.
Indonesia shares land borders with Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, and sea borders with India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Australia and Timor Leste.
Arif said intergovernmental agencies had been meeting to update the map since 2016. Those meetings have considered 2010 and 2017 territorial agreements with Singapore and an EEZ agreement with the Philippines ratified this year.