The Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) commander on Tuesday inaugurated a military unit in the Natuna islands near the South China Sea that will be tasked with warding off threats such as illegal fishing and transnational crimes.
Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto announced the formation of the unit, currently comprising a few hundred personnel including members of army engineering corps.
“The Natuna Integrated TNI Unit is part of our strategic plans to develop our strength to provide deterrence against threats, especially at the borders,” Hadi said in a statement released by the military.
The South China Sea unit in the Riau Islands province will be equipped with a surface-to-air missile defense system, the military said. Other facilities include a port, a hangar to support military aircraft and a hospital.
The unit will become part the Regional Defense Joint Command and will eventually include army, air force and navy personnel.
Indonesian navy patrols have clashed with Chinese fishing boats in waters off Natuna in recent years as the nation increased its crackdown on illegal fishing in region and accused the Chinese of fishing in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
China responded by calling the waters traditional fishing grounds. Tensions between China and its neighbors have risen as the superpower has sought to assert its control of the South China Sea in the face of competing territorial claims from countries in the region.
China claims most of the sea as its own while Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to territories.
Muhammad Arif, a researcher at the Jakarta-based nonprofit Habibie Center, said he sees the military unit as part of the Indonesian government’s response to threats in the area.
“Such threats need to be addressed both militarily and diplomatically and require a change in TNI’s deployment in the border area near the South China Sea,” he told BenarNews. “This shows that the TNI is serious about protecting Indonesia’s territorial borders and responding to instability in the region.”