By Christine T. Tjandraningsih
JAKARTA, March 23, Kyodo
Indonesia on Wednesday called China's latest argument that its Chinese fishermen, detained by Indonesia over the weekend for allegedly operating in the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, were actually fishing in China's traditional fishing grounds as "a new ballgame" that needs to be closely watched.
During the incident, which took place between Saturday afternoon and early Sunday, the Indonesian patrol boat intercepted the Chinese fishing vessel Kway Fey caught inside Indonesia's EEZ and continental shelf in Natuna waters, firing warning shots to the air when the latter tried to escape.
Later, the Indonesian authorities detained eight crew members of Kway Fey.
As the Kway Fey was being towed to an island, the Chinese coast guard vessel physically intervened, hit the fishing boat to make it broken and unable to be towed and demanded it be released, according to the Indonesian side.
Considering the safety of the crew members of Indonesian patrol boat, the authorities left the boat, but managed to bring the Chinese fishermen away.
Beijing later denied Indonesia's claim, saying the Chinese fishing boat was operating in a "traditional Chinese fishing grounds" when it was "harassed" by an Indonesian armed vessel, prompting the Chinese coast guard to come to its assistance.
"This is a new angle of the Chinese argument in the region that not only Indonesia, but also other countries in Southeast Asia, needs to follow very closely" because historical, traditional fishing ground is not recognized under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Arif Havas Oegroseno, deputy coordinating minister for maritime affairs in charge of maritime sovereignty, told a small group of journalists.
"No. 2, it's very vague and ambiguous in terms of since when, since what year it becomes historic and traditional. And it is vague and ambiguous in terms how big the area is. Some parts of South China Sea? Which parts?" Oegroseno said.
The U.N. convention, he said, does not recognize traditional fishing grounds or zones, only recognizes "traditional fishing rights" exercised by nationals of one state in another state's jurisdiction that must be agreed upon a treaty made by the countries involved.
Indonesia so far has only one treaty on traditional fishing rights with Malaysia that is applied in one designated area.
The archipelagic country has recently strengthened its defense posture in the Natuna Islands around which it has declared an EEZ that overlaps with China's so-called "nine-dash line" map, through which the latter claims almost the entire South China Sea.
"Looking at the location of the initial incident and looking at the location of the crashing of the vessel, this is beyond nine-dash lines. So perhaps this is a new ballgame," Oegroseno said.
The crashing of Kway Fey by the Chinese frigate, according to the prominent diplomat, also directly violated the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea set by the International Maritime Organization.
"We support freedom of navigation, (but) we don't want to see any power projection in the region," Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told a press conference late Tuesday.
"China is a close friend of Indonesia, but the territorial integrity of Indonesia is very important. That is why the foreign minister has built intensive communications with China," Pandjaitan added.
Following a series of incidents in Indonesia's territorial waters, the country's top security minister said, Indonesia will also beef up its military presence in Natuna.
It currently has about 800 military personnel in Natuna. This year, according to Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, the number will rise to about 2,000.
Indonesia, while not a claimant state in the disputes over islands and reefs in the South China Sea that mainly involve China, Vietnam and the Philippines, has been warily monitoring China's activities there, including its massive land reclamation and development of infrastructure, seismic surveys and fishing activities.