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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

China's Fishing Fleet: Apparently Only Chinese Waters Are Sovereign

Natuna Islands circled outlined in yellow
It ought to be clear to most people paying attention that China uses its fishing fleet as tool in its aggressive, expansionist efforts in the South China sea as well as a force of to intrude on the sovereign rights of other nations outside the South China Sea. One of the latest incidents involves China's powerful "Coast Guard" using force to retrieve a fishing boat captured by Indonesian forces inside Indonesian waters, as reported by the Jakarta Globe here:
Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Susi Pudjiastuti will summon the Chinese ambassador to Indonesia on Monday (21/03) over reports of a standoff between Chinese coast guards and Indonesian officials trying to capture a ship illegally fishing in Indonesian waters, although China says the incident happened in "a traditional Chinese fishing ground."

Susi said Indonesian officials were pursuing the ship Kway Fey 10078 at 2.15 p.m. on Saturday, for illegally fishing off the coast of Indonesia's Natuna islands as it attempted to flee to the contested South China Sea.

Three officials managed to climb on board and arrested a total of eight crew members, but a Chinese coast guard ship intervened and rammed the fishing ship back into the South China Sea.

“We will summon the Chinese ambassador [ Xie Feng] to discuss the issue [on Monday]. Because in the process of capturing the ship, a standoff occurred,” she told reporters on Sunday. “We respect China, but we must also maintain our sovereignty.”

The incident, she said, occurred just 4.34 kilometers off Indonesia's Natuna islands, which meant it was well inside Indonesia's exclusive economic zone.

“We want to avoid a much more serious incident, so we settled on just arresting the eight crew members. The ship got away but we have the eight men in custody to help us investigate this incident,” Susi said.

The Chinese embassy said in a statement issued late on Sunday night that the area where the incident occurred is "a traditional Chinese fishing ground."

"The Chinese fishing vessel was conducting its regular operation when chased by an armed Indonesian vessel," embassy spokesman Xu Hangtian said in the statement, adding: "It is hoped that the Indonesian side could properly handle this issue, taking into consideration the overall picture of our bilateral relations."
Natuna Islands? Was it just last November when China conceded sovereignty over Natuna to Indonesia? See here:
On Nov. 12, China shocked the countries in the region by issuing a first-ever public statement on the Natuna Islands. According to Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, “The Indonesian side has no territorial claim to China’s [Spratly Islands]. The Chinese side has no objection to Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands.”

This is significant because, although the Natuna Islands are outside of China’s self-designated “Nine-Dash-Line” that lays claim to virtually all of the South China Sea, Natuna’s 200-miles exclusive economic zone (EEZ) protrudes into the area defined by the Nine-Dash-Line. To publicly recognize Indonesia’s sovereign right to the Natunas means China’s acknowledgment of Indonesia’s legitimate claim to an EEZ inside China’s self-claimed Nine-Dash-Line.

And this is not something that China has been willing to do, partly because of the inexact nature of the so-called Nine-Dash-Line and partly because China does not want to show weakness to its smaller neighbors who challenge its maritime claims. Beijing’s failure to clarify with Indonesia the competing claims on the Natuna Islands and the EEZ lies at the root of the angst felt by Jakarta for decades.

Of course, there is the hilariously geographically challenged headline from Fortune regarding China's contretemps: China Goes 1 for 2 in Fishing Boat Wars With Neighbors
China’s fishing fleet got itself involved in a second diplomatic incident for the second time in a week–and this time, it used force to secure a better outcome.

Only days after Argentina sank a Chinese fishing boat that it alleged was fishing illegally in its waters, a Chinese coastguard ship intervened to stop Indonesia impounding another trawler that Jakarta said was fishing illegally in the Natuna Sea, an area between Peninsular Malaysia and the Malaysian province of Sarawak on Borneo island
First, Argentina and China are not even in the same hemisphere or even on the same side of the equator and, thus, are hardly neighbors. A look at a map of the South China Sea region will reveal that China and Indonesia are pretty widely separated. The only "neighborly" aspect to their relationship is China's assertion of "special" if not sovereign rights over a large chunk of the South China Sea - which is downright un-neighborly if you ask me. More about that Argentine thing here.

More about China's aggressive moves in the SCS in a nice post at CIMSEC by Natalie Sambhi CHINA TO INDONESIA: THANKS FOR ALL THE FISH:
The incident complicates Indonesia’s long-held nonaligned stance in which it has carefully maintained the semblance of good relations with both China and the United States. On closer inspection, there is a qualitative difference between Indonesia’s security relationships with China and the United States. Cooperation with the United States is far more established and covers a greater number and variety of activities than activities with China. This latest incident could result in a turn toward even greater depth in that longstanding relationship, particularly in the maritime domain. But more importantly, this is an opportunity for Indonesia to now actively lobby other Indo-Pacific states — in particular Japan, India and Australia — to work together in the maritime sphere.

China’s behavior undercuts the Indonesian president’s Global Maritime Fulcrum vision. This concept positions sovereignty front and center, and has the eradication of illegal fishing as a core domestic element. Despite wanting to keep good relations with China and investment flowing into the country, Indonesia can’t afford to sweep this incident under the rug. China’s “liberation” of its vessel from Indonesian law enforcement, in Indonesian waters, shows flagrant disregard for Indonesia’s sovereignty.

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