Neighbors Indonesia and the Philippines this week officially adopted a maritime boundary in the Celebes Sea that they had agreed to in a treaty signed five years ago, officials from both countries announced.
The agreement established the longest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary in the world, stretching 1,162 kilometers (627.5 nautical miles) in the Celebes Sea, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said, calling it “an extraordinary achievement.”
Retno and her Philippine counterpart, Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., signed protocols of exchange Thursday on the sidelines of meetings of foreign ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Bangkok, officially approving the bilateral treaty struck in Manila in 2014. Discussions on the boundary began 25 years ago, in 1994.
“We had a strong commitment to solve this complex issue through dialogue and negotiations under the framework of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” Retno said in a statement released by the foreign ministry.
The Philippines and Indonesia, the two largest archipelagic nations in the world, are parties to UNCLOS and are entitled to EEZs that run 200 nautical miles out from their shorelines for the length of their boundaries.
“The agreement is expected to benefit both countries, economically and politically, by promoting more bilateral cooperation in the EEZ in order to advance the common interest of managing and preserving the resources in the EEZ and further strengthening maritime security cooperation between the two countries,” the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah praised the outcome reached after more than two decades of negotiations.
“From the aspect of law enforcement, it’s clear that there are no more obstacles to activities within the area and maritime cooperation between the two countries,” he told BenarNews.
“We hope there won’t be any more incidents in waters between Indonesia and the Philippines,” he said.
The Sulu-Celebes Sea, encompassing the waters around Indonesia, Malaysia’s eastern Sabah state and the Philippines, has become an area of growing concern because of attacks carried out by Abu Sayyaf, a southern Philippine-based militant group.
In 2017, the three nations launched trilateral air and maritime patrols over the waterways to combat kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf and to prevent militants in Indonesia and Malaysia from sneaking into the southern Philippines to help pro-Islamic State militants there.
In addition, Indonesia has asserted its maritime claims by cracking down on illegal fishing in its territory since President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo came to power in 2014. In that time, nearly 500 foreign boats linked to illegal fishing, following legal proceedings, according to the Ministry of Fisheries.