Indonesia on Friday rejected a Chinese offer for negotiations on the South China Sea, as Jakarta reiterated that it had no overlapping claims with Beijing in its exclusive economic zone.
The Chinese government, in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday, acknowledged it had no territorial dispute with Indonesia but said the two countries had overlapping claims over maritime rights in parts of the South China Sea.
Beijing’s letter was in response to a diplomatic note sent by the Indonesian government to the U.N. chief on May 26, in which Jakarta rejected China’s Nine-Dash Line map or claim of historical rights to nearly all of the contested waterway.
“Based on UNCLOS 1982 Indonesia does not have overlapping claims with the PRC, so it is not relevant to hold any dialogue on maritime boundary delimitation,” Damos Dumoli Agusman, the director general of international law and treaties at Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, on Friday.
He was referring to a January 2020 statement from the ministry confirming that Indonesia had no territorial dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea based on the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
“It was stated that we reject (any negotiation),” Damos said.
In its letter to the U.N. this week, China argued that its maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea were “established in the long course of historical practice and consistent with international law,” including UNCLOS.
“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 the letter, a copy of which was posted on the mission’s website.
“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.
Indonesia has insisted that China’s claims are “unilateral” and have no legal basis in international law.
No international legal basis
In the letter sent to Guterres last week, Indonesia spelled out the Indonesian government’s support for a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, when the court sided with the Philippines in a case that Manila brought against Beijing over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
“Indonesia reiterates that the Nine-Dash line map implying historic rights claim clearly lacks international legal basis and is tantamount to upset UNCLOS 1982,” said the letter from Indonesia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, referring to a boundary on Chinese maps that encompasses Beijing’s claims in the maritime region.
A spokesman for the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Jakarta used the letter to indicate that China’s Nine-Dash Line had crossed boundaries set by Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“We never know what China’s intentions are in establishing a Nine-Dash Line. It may have the potential to create conditions that disrupt what was determined by Indonesia from a long time ago,” ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews on May 29. “Therefore, we need to inform these matters by communicating our position openly to the international community.”
The Indonesian letter was the latest in 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.
On Thursday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi reiterated her country’s stance on the issue.
“In a diplomatic memorandum sent on 26 May 2020, Indonesia reaffirmed its consistent position in responding to China’s claim to the U.N. that could affect Indonesia’s EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and also emphasize the need for full compliance with UNCLOS 1982,” Retno told reporters during a virtual press conference.
‘Not an apples-to-apples thing’
Meanwhile, an international maritime law researcher at the University of Gadjah Mada (UGM), I Made Andi Arsana, described China’s offer for negotiation as illogical.
“Indonesia’s claim is based on international law while China’s claim is unilateral. It’s not an apples-to-apples thing,” Arsana told BenarNews, adding that Indonesia should not and would not agree to bilateral talks or negotiations on the issue.
Hikmahanto Juwana, an international relations professor at the University of Indonesia, said the Chinese response was consistent with its playbook.
“Indonesia should never allow itself to be lured into negotiating. So far, Indonesia has consistently refused and will never want to negotiate with China,” 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.
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