Indonesia has reacted with anger after Chinese fishing boats protected by coast guard warships forced their way into its territorial waters.
Jakarta has mobilised its military and raised its combat alert status in the Natuna archipelago in response to the incursions which began late last year.
“Our Navy and air force are armed and have been deployed to the North Natuna Sea,” military spokesman Major General Sisriadi said at the weekend. This includes six warships intended to “drive out the foreign vessels”.
Indonesia’s air force deployed four F-16 combat jets to the South China Sea area yesterday. Four more naval vessels have been sent to reinforce the four already on station.
Indonesia’s armed forces, the TNI, is responding to the incursion by activating a Maritime Information Centre in the islands to track and intercept any ships deemed to be violating the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“It will be able to detect and identify every ship that enters Indonesian waters,” Sisriadi said.
First Admiral Nursyawal Embun told the state-run Andalou Agency that two new warships have arrived to reinforce Indonesia’s presence in Natuna waters. More ships were deployed to the area yesterday, bringing the total to eight.
“This is the first time we have faced such behaviour, they insist that the five degrees latitude of Indonesia’s EEZ is their territory,” he said.
China does not separate the civilian policing powers of its coastguard from its military, as other nations do. Instead, these ships are fully-crewed, operated and co-ordinated by the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
Yesterday, an Indonesian air force spokesman confirmed combat jets had been deployed.
The Natuna archipelago occupies a particularly strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves. But it also sits astride arterial shipping lanes passing through the narrow Malacca Strait.
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