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Jakarta: ‘No reason to negotiate’ with Beijing on South China Sea

Tia Asmara
Jakarta
2020-06-18
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Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits a military base at Natuna, Indonesia, near the South China Sea, Jan. 9, 2020.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits a military base at Natuna, Indonesia, near the South China Sea, Jan. 9, 2020.
Antara Foto via Reuters

Updated at 9:53 a.m. ET on 2020-06-19

The Indonesian foreign minister said Thursday there was “no reason to negotiate” as she reaffirmed Jakarta’s stance that it has no overlapping claims with Beijing in the South China Sea, days after Indonesia sent the U.N. chief another letter on the topic.

The diplomatic letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, dated June 12, was in response to one submitted by China to the U.N. chief 10 days earlier. In its letter, Beijing had invited Jakarta to negotiate what it called “overlapping claims of maritime rights and interests” in the contested sea region.

“Indonesia’s position is very clear that … based on UNCLOS 1982 there are no overlapping claims with China. Therefore, there is no reason to negotiate,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said during a press conference in Jakarta, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In its latest letter to Guterres, Indonesia stated that features in the Spratly Islands – a chain in the South China Sea – were not entitled to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or continental shelf and therefore could not overlap with Indonesia’s EEZ or continental shelf.

It also rejected China’s claim of historic rights in parts of the sea that do overlap Indonesia’s EEZ and said that even if any such rights existed, they had been superseded by provisions in UNCLOS 1982.

Indonesia “sees no legal reasoning under international law, particularly UNCLOS 1982, to conduct negotiation on maritime boundaries delimitation with the People’s Republic of China or on any other matters pertaining to maritime rights or interests’ claims made in contravention to international law,” the letter said.

Beijing’s letter calling for a negotiation, dated June 2, was responding to a first diplomatic note sent by Indonesia to the U.N. secretary-general on May 26, in which Jakarta rejected China’s Nine-Dash Line map or claim of historical rights to nearly all of the strategic waterway.

“There is no territorial dispute between China and Indonesia in the South China Sea. However, China and Indonesia have overlapping claims on maritime rights and interests in some parts of the South China Sea,” China’s permanent mission to the United Nations said in its letter.

“China is willing to settle the overlapping claims through negotiation and consultation with Indonesia, and work together with Indonesia to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” the letter said.

The notes were among a flurry of documents from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China following a Malaysian submission to the U.N. in December 2019. The Malaysian government claimed sovereignty over an extended continental shelf in the South China Sea off its northern coast, potentially an area with significant undersea resources.

Persistent objection

An expert on international relations at Gadjah Mada University, I Made Andi Arsana, said it was important for Indonesia to persist with its objection to China’s claims.

“It must be done continuously because that is also what China is doing with their claims,” he told BenarNews.

“Falsehoods that are repeated enough times without objections can seem like truth,” he said.

The Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam – all ASEAN members – are among countries that, along with China and Taiwan, have competing claims in the South China Sea.

Indonesia is not among the claimant countries, but in early 2020 and in 2016, tensions flared between Jakarta and Beijing over the presence of Chinese fishing boats swarming in South China Sea waters near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands.

In 2002, the 10-nation ASEAN bloc and China agreed on a Declaration of Conduct, which was a statement of principles on how parties should behave in the South China Sea. But completing a more detailed – and binding – Code of Conduct (CoC) has proved much harder to establish.

Negotiations began in earnest in 2016 with a tentative deadline for acceptance in 2021. A draft of the text of the agreement has been released.

Jose Taveras, the Indonesian foreign ministry official who leads its office on ASEAN cooperation, said talks on the code of conduct had been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Negotiations are very difficult and cannot be done virtually because they are very technical,” he told reporters Wednesday.

Talks in Indonesia and China scheduled for August and October, respectively, were likely to be postponed, he said.

“It should have been completed in 2021 but at this stage it is difficult to set a new target. It all depends on the COVID-19 situation,” he said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version misspelled the surname of the United Nations secretary-general.

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