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Published On: Sun, Mar 20th, 2016

Indonesia Affirms Neutrality About South China Sea Conflict

nsnbc : Dr. Dewi Fortuna Anwar, deputy for government policy support of the Vice President Secretariat, affirmed the Indonesian government’s neutral policy over the simmering South China Sea conflict and noted that the divergence of the economic interests of the two ASEAN members Laos and Cambodia and China complicated efforts to settle the South China Sea conflict. Indonesia’s plans to develop into a key regional maritime player focus on Australian – Indonesian security dimensions rather than on the South China Sea.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar_Indonesia_Mar 2016_(nsnbc archives)

Dr. Dewi Fortuna Anwar

Dewi Fortuna Anwar, speaking at a seminar, addressed the issue of increased tensions in the South China Sea, saying that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should help ASEAN members Laos and Cambodia develop their economies in an effort to reduce tensions in the region. She added that it was not wise to let Indonesia carry all of the burdens in that regard and that Indonesia and other ASEAN members should jointly help seeking a solution.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar noted that Indonesian foreign policy in this regard is in line with the statement of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi), who noted that  Indonesia has no stakes in the South China Sea and that Indonesia’s foreign policy should remain neutral. Indonesia has previously shown its own position on the issue by not recognizing the so-called 9-dash-line. During the ASEAN – US Summit last month President Jokowi said that Indonesia will maintain a neutral policy with regard to disputes over the South China Sea. Anwar added that Indonesia also had shown its policy by not reacting to the opening of an US military base in the Asian region.

Dewi Fortuna Anwar added that the disputes over the South China Sea is a political and regional issue that isn’t merely a matter of law and maritime borders and that Indonesia, as one of the leading ASEAN members, is expected to take concrete steps to help settle the conflict. She stressed that Indonesia perceives its role as a mediating power that helps bring peace and resolve conflicts among other countries that have overlapping claims over the South China Sea.

U.S.' perception of China's "String of Pearls". The divergence in Chinese - US geopolitical interests creates regional tensions.

U.S.’ perception of China’s “String of Pearls”. The divergence in Chinese – US geopolitical interests creates regional tensions.

Last month Surakiart Sathirathai, the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council (APRC) chairman said after a meeting with Vice President Jusuf Kalla that Indonesia hopes to become a mediator and to bring peace to the region. Sathirathai met with Kalla to discuss solutions to the South China Sea conflict. The two sides discussed efforts to reduce tension in the region and the possibility of the claimant countries to cooperate in the economic field and in the development of the oil and gas resources of the region.

Sithirathai added that the APRC perceives Indonesia’s role as a positive one and that the next round of talks would be held in the middle of this year or by year-end. Sathirathai. remarked that: “We should not necessarily wait for the ASEAN Summit. It depends on when Indonesia wants the talks to happen”.

Vice President Kalla expressed confidence that administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping wants his country to smoothen its trade and consolidate its position as industrial nation. “If a country is willing to facilitate its export and import activities, it must also want a secure and peaceful shipping lane. So, I think China is not likely to try to control the region by force,” noted Kalla.

The Vice President also noted that Chinese exports would drop if the shipping lanes in the South China Sea were insecure. He stressed that the best way for all claimant countries to exploit the region’s natural wealth is to cooperate in the exploration of natural resources, to respect each others boundaries, reduce tensions and to settle disputes peacefully.

Masela Gas Block, Indonesia. Courtesy

Masela Gas Block, Indonesia. Courtesy

Among the countries with overlapping claims over the South China Sea are China and other ASEN members such as Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Indonesia’s own energy-security and security issues are more concerned with Australian – Indonesian relations. Earlier this month the executive director of Indonesia’s Institute for Defense and Security Studies, Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, noted that the development of the Masela gas block located at the maritime border to Australia increased the risk of a proxy war, but that the development would increase Indonesia’s regional influence.

Bakrie stressed that Indonesia should act swiftly with regard to the development of the Masela gas block because Australia will strengthen its border region by building several floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants. Bakrie also noted that the development of the Masela gas block should be based on a holistic approach that includes humans, living space, welfare, sustainability, prosperity, and the environment.

CH/L – nsnbc 20.03.2016

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