Indonesian presidential decree establishes zoning regulations for Natuna Islands

Arie Firdaus
2022.04.14
Jakarta
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Indonesian presidential decree establishes zoning regulations for Natuna Islands An Indonesian Naval cadet uses binoculars as he monitors the signal from the KRI Diponegoro-365 during a joint exercise on guarding Indonesia’s borders, in the North Natuna Sea, Riau islands, Oct. 1, 2021.
Antara Foto via Reuters

A new decree signed by Indonesia’s president outlines and regulates strategic policies for defense and regional security in the Natuna Islands, a maritime region in the southern reaches of the South China Sea near where Jakarta and Beijing had a standoff late last year.

The decree, which President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo signed in March but was recently made public, also regulates policies for tourism and fisheries in and around the Natunas, a chain that is part of the Riau Archipelago.

According to a copy of the decree seen by BenarNews, measures to be taken in the defense and security zone include revamping infrastructure and facilities “to support sovereignty and secure state boundaries.”

The decree also calls for building security posts and developing a surveillance system. The document was posted on Cabinet Secretariat’s website.

Under the decree, the Natunas marine zones in the South China Sea are divided into different designations, including defense and security. The defense and security zones lie on the west side of the Natunas and on the east side that borders the Malaysian section of Borneo.

According to a local analyst, efforts to address overlapping jurisdictions among agencies tasked with securing waters should accompany the zoning plan.

“What’s happening now is these agencies are competing among themselves,” Khairul Fahmi, a researcher on maritime and defense affairs at the Institute for Security and Strategic Studies (ISESS), told BenarNews.

He was referring to the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla), the Marine and Air Police Unit, and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

In September 2021, Jokowi said he would allocate 12.2 trillion rupiah ($850 million) over five years to improve security around the Natunas. Some of the funds were earmarked for the purchase of drones.

And in November 2020, the Navy said it planned move Fleet Command I headquarters to the Natunas from Jakarta to strengthen Indonesia’s sovereignty in the waters and to Indonesian territorial interests amid incursions in national waters by Chinese and Vietnamese fishing boats.

 “The transfer of the Naval Fleet I is in view of the current strategic environment, especially in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, that requires special supervision,” Navy chief Adm. Yudo Margono said, according to the VIVA.co.id news site.

Fishing concerns

Fahmi said the government also wants to turn the Natunas into something similar to Hawaii or Guam, a U.S. island territory in the Western Pacific, adding that Indonesian officials are seeking to build a “world-class” marine tourism site.

Such a project, he warned, could further marginalize the region’s traditional fishing industry.

“The challenge for the government after the issuance of the presidential regulation is how to empower small local fishermen so they can still go to sea and catch fish,” Fahmi said.

In the zoning plan, fishing areas are on the north side of the Natunas and territory bordering Indonesia’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

A local fisherman, Wandarman, said he and others had not been able to reach the territory bordering the EEZ because their boats were too small.

Incursions by foreigners with large fishing boats – especially from Vietnam – have worsened their plight, he said.

“What we need most is a marine patrol that guards the waters so that foreign fishermen don’t enter,” he told BenarNews.

Competing claims

Jokowi had previously announced efforts to strengthen security around the islands over concerns in Jakarta about diplomatic standoffs with Beijing over South China Sea territories.

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, including waters within the exclusive economic zones of Taiwan and ASEAN member-states Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s EEZ as well.

Last year, Beijing told Jakarta to stop drilling for oil and gas near the Natuna Islands inside Indonesia’s EEZ because the block is within the “nine-dash line” China uses to demarcate its expansive claims.

In addition, the China’s coast guard has been active across the South China Sea, including in waters off the Natunas.

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