Vietnam, Indonesia wrap up talks on exclusive economic zones

By BenarNews and RFA Staff
2022.12.22
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Vietnam, Indonesia wrap up talks on exclusive economic zones Indonesian officials stand next to Vietnamese fishermen who were detained on suspicion of illegal fishing in Natuna waters, in Batam, Kepulauan Riau, Indonesia, March 4, 2020.
Teguh Prihatna/AFP

Vietnam and Indonesia have concluded negotiations on the boundaries of both countries’ exclusive economic zones (EEZ), a move praised by regional analysts but one likely to irk China.

“After 12 years of intensive negotiations, Indonesia and Vietnam have finally concluded negotiations on the EEZ boundaries of the two countries based on the 1982 UNCLOS,” said Indonesian President Joko Widodo after meeting with his visiting counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Thursday at the Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java.

UNCLOS is the abbreviation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – a document to which Vietnam, Indonesia and China are signatories.

Phuc is in Indonesia on his first state visit to the Southeast Asian neighbor since taking office in 2021.

Vietnam and Indonesia have been embroiled in disputes over overlapping EEZ claims in the waters surrounding the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea for years. 

Law enforcement agencies of the two countries have clashed over Vietnamese fishermen’s activities in the area, with Indonesia detaining and destroying dozens of Vietnamese boats accused of unlawful encroachment and illegal fishing.

The two countries agreed on a continental shelf, or seabed, limit in 2003 and since 2010, they have engaged in more than a dozen rounds of talks on EEZ delimitation. An EEZ gives a state exclusive access to the natural resources in the waters and in the seabed.

In 2021, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said in a statement that negotiating with Vietnam on EEZ borders in accordance with international law including UNCLOS 1982 was one of her ministry’s priorities.

“Indonesia will continue to reject claims that are not based on international law,” Marsudi said.

Jokowi military.JPG
Indonesian President Joko Widodo visits a military base at Natuna, Indonesia, near the South China Sea on Jan. 9, 2020. [Antara Foto/via Reuters]

Important milestone

The news of the conclusion of negotiations was welcomed by regional observers and analysts who said it was an important achievement for both countries.

“It is a significant milestone,” said Shahriman Lockman, a director at Malaysia’s Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS).

“It’s a big step towards having clearer demarcations of maritime boundaries between Southeast Asian countries,” Lockman said.

Nguyen The Phuong, a Vietnamese security analyst and a Lecturer at Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics and Finance, said the move “proves that ASEAN countries can settle maritime disputes amongst them.”

“It will help cool things off, especially issues relating to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is a hot issue between Vietnam and Indonesia,” Phuong told RFA.

“It will also encourage the current negotiations between Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as Malaysia,” he added.

The South China Sea is being claimed by six parties - Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Each party has its own set of maritime boundaries but Beijing’s claims are the most expansive.

Details of the newly reached Indonesia-Vietnam agreement have not been announced but their EEZ claims lie within China’s so-called “nine-dash line” that Beijing uses to demarcate its “historical rights” over almost 90% of the South China Sea.

“China would insist that they have jurisdiction over these areas,” according to Lockman from Malaysia’s ISIS.

A U.N. tribunal in 2016 invalidated China’s “nine-dash line” but Beijing has so far rejected the ruling, calling it “null and void.”

China is likely to voice protest against the new Indonesia-Vietnam agreement, warned Lockman and other analysts.

Tria Dianti in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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