A protester sticks posters outside the Chinese embassy following reports that China has encroached on Indonesia’s maritime area in the South China Sea, in Jakarta, Indonesia, 8 December 2021. (Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana/Reuters)

South China Sea dispute: Why can't Southeast Asian countries stand united against China's claims?

Amid the spectre of China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Indonesia plans to convene a meeting with some of its ASEAN colleagues — including the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore. If the meeting happens, Beijing may not dial down its activities in the disputed areas, but the point would have been made that Indonesia is prepared to take the lead in galvanising ASEAN on South China Sea matters. The idea of a meeting is not new, but this time it might just work.
A nuclear-powered Type 094A Jin-class ballistic missile submarine of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is seen during a military display in the South China Sea, 12 April 2018. (Stringer/File Photo/Reuters)

China’s ‘hegemony with Chinese characteristics’ in the South China Sea

Though in word it professes to never seek hegemony or bully smaller countries, in deed, China behaves unilaterally and flexes its economic and political muscles for dominance in the South China Sea, says Indian academic Amrita Jash.
This handout photo taken on 2 December 2021 and released by the Indonesian fleet command Koarmada I on 4 December 2021 shows the ASEAN countries' navy ships off the waters of Andaman during a joint exercise between the Indonesian Navy, the Russian Navy and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members. (Indonesian Fleet Command Koarmada I/AFP)

Stuck in second gear: Indonesia’s strategic dilemma in the Indo-Pacific

Indonesia's strategic resources and political leadership are heavily directed inwards, leaving little bandwidth to invest in options beyond the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) to address Indo-Pacific strategic challenges. For pressing challenges, whether over the South China Sea, Myanmar or other Indo-Pacific flashpoints like Taiwan, Indonesia needs to invest in non-ASEAN options as well. Furthermore, it would help to have a "centralised hub" under the president’s office to coordinate its strategies.
Lu Kang, former foreign ministry spokesperson who was also director-general of the ministry’s information department, slated to become next Chinese ambassador to Indonesia. (Internet)

Prospective Chinese ambassador to Indonesia Lu Kang will have sights on engaging ASEAN

Former foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang is slated to be the next Chinese ambassador to Indonesia. Amid US-China tensions, a post in Indonesia presents opportunities and challenges both in terms of bilateral relations and in engaging ASEAN. Known to be a steady hand, if Lu can chalk up notable achievements during his tenure, he may move on to higher roles, just like other high-flying spokesmen of the ministry.
An Indonesian Naval cadets uses binoculars as he monitors the signal from the KRI Diponegoro-365 during a joint excercise on guarding Indonesia's borders, in the North Natuna sea, Riau islands, Indonesia, 1 October 2021. (Antara Foto/Muhammad Adimaja/via Reuters)

Indonesia's response to China’s incursions in North Natuna Sea unsatisfactory: Indonesian academic

Indonesian academic Evan A. Laksmana notes that China has subjected Indonesia to maritime grey zone tactics in the South China Sea, attempting to change the strategic equation at sea and beyond without provoking a direct conflict. While Chinese incursions into the North Natuna Sea in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) have increased, Indonesia has kept mum and appears unprepared to counter these actions. Laksmana examines the reasons behind Indonesian policymakers' reserved response.
Indonesia's new military chief General Andika Perkasa speaks to journalists during a press conference with retired Indonesia's military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, after a handover ceremony at the Indonesian Military Headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, 18 November 2021. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters)

Indonesia’s maritime challenges are increasing. Can its new army chief rise to the occasion?

The newly-appointed commander of the Indonesian military, General Andika Perkasa, has an army background. However, his appointment comes at a time when Indonesia’s defence challenges fall largely in the maritime domain, including the presence of vessels from various countries in the waters around Indonesia, necessitating maritime enforcement. Indonesian academic Aristyo Rizka Darmawan notes that if the Indonesian military can shift focus towards the sea, it may be able to play a key role in Asia's maritime landscape.
Fishermen pull in their net along the coast of Banda Aceh on 1 August 2021. (Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP)

Strong civilian presence needed to protect Indonesia's sovereignty in the North Natuna Sea

Indonesian academic Aristyo Rizka Darmawan notes the intrusions of Chinese vessels into Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone. He says to deter Chinese activities in the North Natuna Sea, Indonesia needs to complement its military assets in the area with a strong civilian presence.
An Indonesian Airforce's F-16 jet fighter flies over an Indonesian Navy warship during an operation in Natuna, near the South China Sea, Indonesia, 10 January 2020. (M Risyal Hidayat/Antara Foto via Reuters)

Indonesian academic: China’s recent foray into the North Natuna Sea is problematic

A Chinese survey ship was reported to be operating in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the North Natuna Sea recently. This is not new, but this time the survey ship was reportedly accompanied by at least six Chinese naval vessels. Jakarta should consider a firm response to Beijing.
A woman receives the Sinovac Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Denpasar, Indonesia's Bali island on 2 September 2021. (Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP)

Has China done well in its vaccine diplomacy in Southeast Asia?

China has supplied 190 million doses of its homegrown vaccines to Southeast Asia. However, although there has been sporadic support, perceptions of Chinese vaccines among the public in the region largely trend negatively, suggesting a non-linear relationship between China’s vaccine diplomacy and its soft power in the region. ISEAS researchers Khairulanwar Zaini and Hoang Thi Ha discuss the complex factors affecting vaccine hesitancy in six Southeast Asian countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.