Indonesian president Joko Widodo traveled to the South China Sea, with his cabinet members, sending sharp message to Beijing that Indonesia would assert its sovereignty over waters at the center of a fishing-rights dispute between two nations.
Mr. Widodo, aboard with a navy warship near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands, that lie between Singapore and Borneo, held a meeting with members of his cabinet to discuss issues such as fishing, energy programs, and defense plans for the area.
His cabinet later issued a statement that Mr. Widodo’s visit was an “affirmation that the (Natuna) islands are the sovereign territory’ of Indonesia”.
Indonesia known for years trying to avoid being dragged into territorial disputes in the region, where countries China, Vietnam and Philippines claim part of the South China Sea as their own.
Tension rises after China began building artificial islands on reefs and atolls it occupies in the area.
It is expected in the coming weeks, a United Nations-backed up arbitration court in the Netherlands will rule a complaint from Philippines over China’s sweeping territorial claims in the region.
China claims that it doesn’t disputes Indonesia’s Natuna Island. But it says that Indonesia has rights to fish in waters near the islands, which home to nearly 100,000 Indonesians.
Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswomen said that China and Indonesia have overlapping claims over maritime interests in some waters in South China Sea and expressed hope that Indonesia and China could meet half-way in maintaining stability in the region.
China’s claims to South China Sea do not include the Natuna Islands, which are nearly 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) from the Chinese mainland.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Senior political and security minister, said that Widodo’s visit was a clear message that Indonesia is very serious about protecting its sovereignty.
Jakarta Post newspaper quoted Pandjaitan saying, “In the course of our history, we’ve never been this stern (with China),”.
This is also to demonstrate that the president is not taking the issue lightly.” Pandjaitan added.