Indonesia may consider building up a coalition of 'Unclos defenders' to protect its maritime interests, a Foreign Affairs Ministry official said on Wednesday (13/12). (Photo courtesy of the Tourism Ministry)

Indonesia Considers Joining Forces With 'Unclos Defenders' to Defend Strategic Interests


DECEMBER 14, 2017

Jakarta. Since global trends show changing dynamics and values on world seas that will influence relations between great powers, Indonesia must carefully consider its position within local geopolitical rivalry and build a coalition to defend the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — Unclos for short, an official from Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Wednesday (13/12).

Speaking at the 60th Anniversary of Djuanda Declaration Symposium in Jakarta, Indonesian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Ireland and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Rizal Sukma, said for many countries the world's seas now have more strategic values instead of economic ones.

Rizal said the rise of China and India and a new focus on East Asia will "transform [the region] into a stage where the world's major powers will compete for influence" — driven by each country's strategic interests.

This is already happening in the ongoing dispute over South China Sea.

"The desire to fuel economic development at home will drive countries in the region to secure greater access to energy sources at sea," Rizal said.

That adds the possibility of naval build-up and heightened military competition between countries vying for influence, increasing risks of accident and miscalculation that could "easily slide into open confrontation at sea."

As Indonesia borders the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, it needs to work out how maritime rivalry among the world's major powers can influence its own strategic choices.

Indonesia established its territorial sea borders and introduced the archipelagic baseline concept through the Djuanda Declaration in 1957.

"For Indonesia, the prospect of major power rivalries in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea is a nightmare," Rizal said.

In the meantime, these changing geopolitical relations may impact the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and affect Indonesia’s status, rights and obligations as an archipelagic state.

"It's more than likely there will be attempts to reinterpret and redefine Unclos by major maritime powers as befit their strategic interests," Rizal said.

This will destabilize the international maritime order and threaten Indonesia’s interests, he said.

Global Maritime Fulcrum

Rizal said Indonesia needs to execute President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo’s vision to turn the country into a global maritime fulcrum (GMF) to respond to the geopolitical challenges lying ahead.

"This is a vision, a doctrine, a set of development plan that should be executed through a concerted effort by everyone," Rizal said.

In March, the government had already released the Indonesian Sea Policy, which maps out Indonesia’s maritime goals.

Canvassing his GMF doctrine at the East Asia Summit in 2014, Jokowi said Indonesia "must assert itself as a force between two oceans: the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean."

Jokowi incorporates maritime diplomacy as one of his GMF doctrine's five pillars, but Rizal said this needs to "go beyond its current scope."

"We must undertake a strategic reorientation of our foreign policy. We need to place Indonesia as a fulcrum between the two oceans," Rizal said.

Indonesia must also consider forming a coalition of "Unclos defenders" and getting more involved in different platforms for maritime cooperation, including the Asean Maritime Forum Plus.

Southeast Asia's biggest economy should also make moves at an operational level by enhancing its maritime patrol capability in critical areas, including in Malacca Straits to combat smuggling and illegal fishing, and in the Arafura Sea to stop illegal poaching.