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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Needs New Maritime Approach in the Sea of Natuna Island

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The Indonesian Coast Guard wards off a foreign fishing boat in the North Natuna Sea on Feb. 24, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry)

The Indonesia-China conflict in the sea of the Natuna Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which was recently reportedly massively was not new. A similar event had occurred in March 2016, after eight Chinese fishermen were arrested by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Unit 11 Shark Boat officers. And the response made by the Chinese government at that time was similar. PRC still feels innocent because it considers Natuna sea as a traditional fishing location for a long time.In other words, the land is claimed as part of the U-shaped South China Sea area (known as the Nine-Dash Line). The area was declared by China in 1947. Therefore, the Chinese fishing vessels finally seemed to be shaking in and out even though Indonesia’s claim on the Natuna Islands EEZ was based on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Actually, the maritime border agreement which covers continental shelf, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone with neighboring countries and the international community is not yet complete. Indonesia and Malaysia signed the establishment of continental shelf boundaries in November 1969. The approval for the establishment of Indonesian and Vietnamese continental shelf boundaries was signed in June 2013. Indonesia jurisdictional maps issued by the Indonesian Navy Hydrographic and Oceanographic Center shows that the EEZ boundary line (Exclusive Economic Zone) with Vietnam and Malaysia on the Natuna sea border many still need agreement. In EEZ – as the name implies – a country’s sovereign rights are limited and exclusive to economic rights, such as the exploration of marine resources, or oil and gas under the sea. Other countries, even including countries that do not have sea borders (land locked states) have certain access to the EEZ such as the rights of peaceful crossing vessels and flying in the sky above, laying cables and pipes under the sea, with regard to (shall have due regards) rights other countries’ rights

According to the Law of the Sea Convention, in the event of a dispute in EEZ, the settlement is not based on the jurisdiction and legal point of view of the state of EE jurisdiction, but on the principle of equality. This is by taking into account other relevant matters for the parties to the dispute and the international community as a whole. It should be noted in the Law of the Sea Convention that governing EEZ is in Chapter V whose templates constitute the sovereign rights of coastal states, and restrictions on those rights against other countries.

While the rights of an island nation are placed in Chapter IV whose templates include regulating the rights of other countries in waters in an island nation (such as the right to navigate peacefully and to fly, in a designated path). Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and China are coastal countries, while Indonesia is an archipelago. Considering the loosening of these rights, it is very important that a country that has EEZ jurisdiction as Indonesia proves to the international community the EEZ’s tenure and effective management capabilities. This includes maintaining and upholding their rights. It is not enough if a patrol boat or airplane is just circling around.

The problem, Natuna Island is not directly connected to China Sea. That’s why Indonesia is not the first and direct actor in South China Sea dispute. It is understandable that the act of China which claims to have the right or even territory over the territory in the South China Sea has long infuriated ASEAN countries, but not for Natuna. Malaysia brought violations and unilateral Chinese claims to the South China Sea to the United Nations. The proposal was submitted by the Malaysian government in mid-December. Earlier, in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) under the auspices of the United Nations won the Philippines against China’s unilateral claim to the South China sea area. But China never show even just a little bit of respect to Philippines in South China Sea

The PCA court, which based its decision on the 1982 UNCLOS, ruled China had violated Philippine sovereign rights. The Nine Dash Line used as the reason for China were declared not to meet international legal requirements, and there is no historical evidence that China controls and controls resources in the South China Sea. However, the Chinese government did not accept the ruling. Another ASEAN country, Vietnam, is also involved in regional conflicts with China in the South China Sea.

Apart from the legal aspects of the South China Sea and Natuna ZEE, the real theft of fish by Chinese vessels has been going on for a long time but only now has wide attention. China really acts like a legal master of Natuna Sea and in many times show the bullying moves. That’s why the government of Indonesia needs new ways to improve the management of marine resources while improving the capabilities of maritime operations. The country’s geostrategic complexity, which consists of thousands of islands and comprises three Indonesian Archipelagic Sea Lanes areas and is open to international parties, requires the reliability of military operations. Especially those related to maritime interception operations. The operation must be carried out in any waters, both in the Republic of Indonesia and outside.

Maritime operations require the reliability of the maritime security infrastructure and renewal of sea defense doctrine that puts forward intelligence and technology aspects. The maritime intelligence field must be improved so as to achieve strong surveillance capabilities. The world situation demands Indonesia be able to realize its sophisticated maritime intelligence capabilities. Maritime intelligence is a part of strategic intelligence in an effort to ensure national stability and efforts for sensing the strategic environment both at home and abroad.

Maritime intelligence focuses on its activities related to the maritime field or that influences the maritime capabilities of foreign countries and the country itself. National intelligence capacity and posture should be directed to strengthen maritime intelligence capabilities. No more sectarian intelligence operations, that is, those that limit the security and sectoral dimensions. For example, the Navy (Navy) no longer limits to naval intelligence, but more broadly namely maritime intelligence that is able to provide strategic information to national maritime institutions. Such as the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Environment, Customs and Police.

For this reason, the urgency of building a number of base infrastructure and facilities for maintaining warships is inevitable. The infrastructure is primarily to support the effectiveness of the third Fleet Command Headquarters located in Sorong, West Papua. During this time the Navy’s combat strength still relies on two regional fleets, namely west (Armabar), and east (Armatim). The number of warships owned by the Indonesian Navy is only 151 units (on the process of increasing). In fact, the number of Indonesian warships in the 1960s amounted to 162 ships.

The fleet command system tasked with fostering the ability of the Integrated Armed Weapon System (IAWS) consisting of warships, aircraft, marines and bases should be more synergized with other agencies that also manage the sea area. The capabilities of marine warfare and the readiness of marine operations at this time should be able to turn into non-war operations that support the enforcement of sovereignty and law at sea, and secure economic potential at sea.

The next important task is to form a reliable national system of marine inspectors with three important aspects. First, the informative aspect. The system must provide complete information about national marine conditions, both in terms of marine resources, water conditions, weather, important events at sea (accidents and incidents), signs of sea navigation that are very helpful for sailing ships, and all information about the sea the other. Second, integrative aspects. The overlapping of infrastructure procurement and installation of supervision equipment between departments can be overcome, so that there are savings in the state budget.

Because the amount of equipment or systems built do not collide in terms of coverage in an area or system and its functions. In addition, with interoperability solutions, the problem of intermittent owner of equipment along the critical strait, such as the Malacca Strait can be integrated. Third, is the collaborative aspect. This is more focused on the status of data exchanged. For example, data to eradicate Illegal Unregulated and Unreported Fishing Fishing such as fishing vessel lines (position, speed, heading), including Owner, Company Identity, Ship size, fishing gear type, permit expiration date, then log book database (fish species, location), marine biology parameter data (chlorophyll, upwelling), and boundary data. So in short, permanent strategic synergy is needed between the three institutions that have been the main managers of the national marine system, namely the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Navy, and the Director General of Sea Transportation  of the Ministry of Transportation.

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Southeast Asia

Learning to build a community from a ”Solok Literacy Community”in the West Sumatra

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Established on September 21, 2020 in Solok City, West Sumatra Province, Indonesia. Solok Literacy Community initiated by the young people of Solok City has grown rapidly into a community that has its own trendsetter among young people. Bringing narratives smelling of education, The Literacy Solok Community has a movement with measurable progressiveness that can be seen from its flagship programs.

Starting from the free reading stall movement that has been moving in various corners of Solok City over the past few months. The concept of film surgery that provides proactive discussion space for all segmentation in society. “Diskusi Ngopi” activities which in fact is the concept of FGD (Focus Group Discussion), run with interesting themes and issues so that it can be considered as one of the favorite programs that are often attended by many young people in Solok. Then a class of interests and talents aimed at reactivating the soft skills and great talents of the children of Solok City.

Solok Literacy Community has a long-term goal of making Solok City as a Literacy City in 2025. With these noble targets, of course we together need small steps in the form of programs that run consistently over time. Because after all, a long journey will always begin with small steps in the process of achieving it.

Many appreciations and positive impressions from the surrounding community continue to be received by the Solok Literacy Community. This is certainly a big responsibility for the Solok Literacy Community to continue to commit to grounding literacy in Solok City. Solok Literacy Community activities can be checked directly through instagram social media accounts @solok_literasi. Carrying the tagline #penetrategloomy or penetrating the gloom and #lawanpembodohan, members of the Solok Literacy Community or better known as Soliters, will always make innovative breakthroughs in completing the goal of making Solok City 2025 as a Literacy City.

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia Submit Extended Continental Shelf Proposal Amidst Pandemic: Why now is important?

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Authors: Aristyo Rizka Darmawan and Arie Afriansyah*

Indonesia’s active cases of coronavirus have been getting more worrying with more than 100.000 active cases. With nearly a year of pandemic, Indonesia’s not only facing a serious health crisis but also an economic catastrophe. People lose their jobs and GDP expected to shrink by 1.5 percent. Jakarta government therefore should work hard to anticipate the worst condition in 2021.

With this serious economic threat, Indonesia surely has to explore maximize its maritime geographic potential to pass this economic crisis and gain more national revenue to recover from the impact of the pandemic. And there where the Extended Continental Shelf submission should play an important role.

Recently this week, Indonesia submit a second proposal for the extended continental shelf in the southwest of the island of Sumatra to the United Nations Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). Continental shelf is that part of the seabed over which a coastal State exercises sovereign rights concerning the exploration and exploitation of natural resources including oil and gas deposits as well as other minerals and biological resources.

Therefore, this article argues that now is the right time for Indonesia to maximize its Continental Shelf claim under the law of the sea convention for at least three reasons.

First, one could not underestimate the economic potential of the Continental Shelf, since the US Truman Proclamation in 1945, countries have been aware of the economic potential from the oil and gas exploration in the continental shelf.

By being able to explore and exploit natural resources in the strategic continental shelf, at least Indonesia will gain more revenue to recover the economy. Even though indeed the oil and gas business is also hit by the pandemic, however, Indonesia’s extended continental shelf area might give a future potentials area for exploitation in long term. Therefore, it will help Indonesia prepare a long-term economic strategy to recover from the pandemic. After Indonesia can prove that there is a natural prolongation of the continental shelf.

Second, as the Indo-Pacific region is getting more significant in world affairs, it is strategic for Indonesia to have a more strategic presence in the region. This will make Indonesia not only an object of the geopolitical competition to utilize resources in the region, but also a player in getting the economic potential of the region.

And third, it is also showing that President Joko Widodo’s global maritime fulcrum agenda is not yet to perish. Even though in his second term of administration global maritime fulcrum has nearly never been discussed, this momentum could be a good time to prove that Indonesia are still committed to the Global maritime fulcrum by enhancing more maritime diplomacy.

Though this is not the first time Indonesia submit an extended Continental Shelf proposal to the CLCS, this time it is more likely to be accepted by the commission. Not to mention the geographical elements of natural prolongation of the continental shelf that has to be proved by geologist.

The fact that Indonesia has no maritime border with any neighboring states in the Southwest of Sumatra. Therefore, unlike Malaysia’s extended continental shelf proposal in the South China Sea that provoke many political responses from many states, it is less likely that Indonesia extended continental shelf proposal will raise protest from any states.

However, the most important thing to realize the potential benefit of the extended continental shelf as discussed earlier, Indonesia should have a strategy and road map how what to do after Indonesia gets the extended continental shelf.

*Arie Afriansyah is a Senior Lecturer in international law and Chairman of the Center for Sustainable Ocean Policy at University of Indonesia.

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Southeast Asia

The China factor in India’s recent engagement with Vietnam

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Photo courtesy - PTI

In its fourth year since the elevation of ties to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, December 2020 witnessed an enhanced cooperation between New Delhi and Hanoi, ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to defence and maritime cooperation, amid common concerns about China.

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In an effort to boost defence cooperation, the navies of India and Vietnam conducted atwo-day passage exercise (Passex) in the South China Sea on December 26 and 27, 2020, reinforcing interoperability and jointness in the maritime sphere. Two days before this exercise has begun, an Indian naval ship arrived at Nha Rong Port in Ho Chi Minh City to offer humanitarian assistance for the flood-affected parts of Central Vietnam.

Before this, in the same week, during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Xuan Phuc on December 21, both countries inked seven agreements on miscellaneous areas of cooperation and jointly unveiled a vision and plan of action for the future, as both countries encounter the common Chinese threat in their respective neighbourhoods.

Vietnam’s disputes with China

India’s bone of contention with China ranges from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. Both Vietnam and India share territorial borders with China. Well, it seems odd that despite its common socialistic political backgrounds, China and Vietnam remains largely hostile. 

Having a 3,260 km coastline, covering much of the western part of South China Sea, Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) overlaps with Chinese claims based on the legally invalid and vaguely defined Nine-Dash Line concept, unacceptable for all the other countries in the region, including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

In 2016, China lost a case brought out by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague when the court ruled that Beijing’s had no legal basis to claim ‘historic rights’ as per the nine-dash line. China rejected the ruling and continued to build artificial islands in the South China Sea, which it has been doing since 2013, some of them later militarized to gain favourable strategic footholds in the sea and the entire region.

The Paracel and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea has been historically considered part of Vietnam. The Geneva Accords of 1954, which ended the First Indochina War, gave the erstwhile South Vietnam control of territories south of the 17th Parallel, which included these island groups. But, China lays claims on all of these islands and occupies some of them, leading to an ongoing dispute with Vietnam.

China and Vietnam also fought a border war from 1979 to 1990. But today, the disputes largely remain in the maritime sphere, in the South China Sea.

China’s eyes on the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been long regarded as India’s sphere of influence. But with the Belt and Road Initiative, a trillion-dollar megaproject proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and the Maritime Silk Road connecting three continents, which is part of it, China has grand ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Theories such as ‘String of Pearls’ shed light on an overambitious Beijing, whichattempts to encircle India with ports and bases operating under its control.

China has also opened a military base in Djibouti, overlooking the Indian Ocean, in 2017 and it has also gained control of the strategic port of Hambantota in the southern tip of the island of Sri Lanka, the same year.

Chinese presence in Gwadar in Pakistan, where the Maritime Silk Route meets the land route of BRI, is also a matter of concern for India. Moreover, the land route passes through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is under Pakistani control, but is also claimed by India.  China has also been developing partnerships with Bangladesh and Myanmar to gain access to its ports in the Bay of Bengal.

Notwithstanding all this, India’s response has been robust and proactive. The Indian Navy has been building partnership with all the littoral states and small island states such as Mauritius and Seychelles to counter the Chinese threat.

India has also been engaged in humanitarian and developmental assistance in the Indian Ocean region, even much before the pandemic, to build mutual trust and cooperation among these countries. Last month, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Sri Lanka to revive a trilateral maritime security dialogue with India’s two most important South Asian maritime neighbours, the islands of Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Foe’s foe is friend

The Indian Navy holding a Passex with Vietnam in the South China Sea, which is China’s backyard, is a clear message to Beijing. This means, if China ups the ante in the Indian Ocean or in the Tibetan border along the Himalayas, India will intensify its joint exercises and defence cooperation with Vietnam.

A permanent Indian presence in the South China Sea is something which Beijing’s never wish to see materialise in the new future. So, India’s engagement with Vietnam, which has a long coast in this sea, is a serious matter of concern for Beijing.

During this month’s virtual summit, Prime Minister Modi has also reiterated that Vietnam is a key partner of India in its Indo-Pacific vision, a term that Beijing vehemently opposes and considers as a containment strategy against its rise led by the United States.

Milestones in India-Vietnam ties – a quick look-back

There was a time when India supported Vietnam’s independence from France, and had opposed US-initiated war in the Southeast Asian country in the latter half of the previous century. Later, India hailed there-unification of North and South Vietnams.

Even though India maintained consulate-level relations with the then North and South Vietnams before the re-unification, it was elevated to ambassadorial level in 1972, thereby establishing full diplomatic ties that year.

During the Vietnam War, India supported the North, despite being a non-communist country, but without forging open hostilities with the South. Today, India partners with both France and the United States, Vietnam’s former colonizers, in its Indo-Pacific vision, comfortably along with Vietnam as geopolitical dynamics witnessed a sea change in the past few years and decades.

Way ahead

Today, these two civilizational states, sharing religio-cultural links dating many centuries back, is coming together again to ensure a favourable balance of power in Asia. Being a key part of India’s ‘Act East’ policy and ‘Quad Plus’ conceptualisation, Vietnam’s role is poised to increase in the years to come as China continues to project its power in Asia and beyond.

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