Indonesia has renamed the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea, the latest act of resistance to China’s territorial ambitions in the maritime region.
- Indonesia officially marks North Natuna Sea on the map for the first time
- China dismisses the move as meaningless
- Analysts call it a political statement that will “be noticed in Beijing.”
Part of the renamed sea is claimed by China under its contentious maritime boundary, known as the “nine-dash line”, that encompasses most of the resource-rich sea.
Several South-East Asian states dispute China’s territorial claims and are competing with China to exploit the South China Sea’s abundant hydrocarbon and fishing resources.
China has raised the ante by deploying military assets on artificial islands constructed on shoals and reefs in disputed parts of the sea.
Indonesia insists it is a non-claimant state in the South China Sea dispute but has clashed with China over fishing rights around the Natuna Islands, detaining Chinese fishermen and expanding its military presence in the area over the past 18 months.
Unveiling the new official map, the Deputy of Maritime Sovereignty at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Arif Havas Oegroseno, noted the northern side of its exclusive economic zone was the site of oil and gas activity.
“We want to update the naming of the sea, we gave a new name in line with the usual practice: the North Natuna Sea,” he told reporters.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he did not know anything about the details of the issue, but said the name South China Sea had broad international recognition and clear geographic limits.
“Certain countries’ so-called renaming is totally meaningless,” he told a daily news briefing.
“We hope the relevant country can meet China halfway and properly maintain the present good situation in the South China Sea region, which has not come easily.”
An assertion of Indonesian sovereignty
I Made Andi Arsana, an expert on the Law of the Sea from Indonesia’s Universitas Gadjah Mada, said the renaming carried no legal force but was a political and diplomatic statement.
“It will be seen as a big step by Indonesia to state its sovereignty,” said.
“It will send a clear message, both to the Indonesian people and diplomatically speaking.”
Euan Graham, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute, said Indonesia’s action followed renewed resistance to Chinese territorial claims by other South-East Asian states.
“This will be noticed in Beijing,” he said.
ABC News |Reuters