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Indonesian President Joko Widodo inspects Indonesian navy ships at Lampa Strait Navy Base, 8 January 2020. (Indonesia Cabinet Secretariat website)

Indonesia crosses swords with China over South China Sea: 'Bombshell to stop China's expansionism'?

Indonesia has recently taken a firmer position vis-à-vis China on the South China Sea (SCS). This was described by some as the first time that any of Manila’s Southeast Asian neighbours had stood up and endorsed the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal Ruling, which rejected Beijing's claims to most of the critical waterway in SCS and ruled in favour of the Philippines. Is Indonesia's assertive stance “a bombshell to stop China’s expansionism” or “an extension of the Indonesian existing policy”?
 Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (C) during his visit to a military base in the Natuna islands, which border the South China Sea. (Handout/Presidential Palace/AFP)

Recent Chinese moves in the Natunas rile Indonesia

Indonesia has been caught in a tussle with China over rights to Natuna waters in the South China Sea. It appears that China recognises Indonesian sovereignty over the Natuna Islands and its 12 nautical miles of the territorial waters, but not the Indonesian EEZ which extends to 200 nautical miles. ISEAS academic Leo Suryadinata examines the claims and opines that if another encroachment takes place, an open clash could occur, and anti-China and anti-ethnic Chinese sentiments in Indonesia would again be whipped up.