pacific forum History of Pacific Forum

PacNet #26 – The end of strategic ambiguity: Indonesia formally announces its dispute with China in the South China Sea

In a significant policy shift, Indonesian officials on March 12, 2014 announced that China’s nine-dash line map outlining its claims in the South China Sea overlaps with Indonesia’s Riau province, which includes the Natuna Island chain. For over two decades, Indonesia has positioned itself as an independent mediator in the South China Sea disputes between its ASEAN partners and China. Indonesia and China have no overlapping claims to islands. In Jakarta’s view, therefore, Indonesia and China should have no disputes over waters since, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), rights to waters are derived from rights to land. Indonesia has long pressed Beijing for reassurance on this point, but it has not been forthcoming. Indonesia’s declaration that it is indeed a party to the South China conflict with China ends the strategic ambiguity that has reigned for years, and is likely to heighten tensions on an issue that is already fraught with them.