President Joko Widodo, left, receives US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Bogor Palace in West Java on Oct. 29. 2020. (Presidential Press Bureau)

US Offers Maritime Security Cooperation in Natuna amid China’s “Unlawful Claims”

BY :LENNY TRISTIA TAMBUN & HERU ANDRIYANTO

OCTOBER 29, 2020

Jakarta. Visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told his Indonesian counterpart on Thursday that his government is ready to help protect the Natuna Sea and other busiest trade routes from unilateral claims by China.

The US has been very critical of China’s dominant presence in the region, primarily in the South China Sea, and has in more than one occasion deployed warships to assert its stance of a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

His Indonesian visit was a wrap-up of his four-nation tour that also included India, Sri Lanka and Maldives carrying the same message.

“Our law-abiding nations reject the unlawful claims made by the Chinese Communist Party in the South China Sea, as is clear from Indonesia’s courageous leadership on the subject within ASEAN and at the United Nations,” Pompeo said in a joint press conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi in Jakarta.  

“We also welcome the example Indonesia has set with decisive action to safeguard its maritime sovereignty around the Natuna Islands.  I’m looking forward to cooperating together in the new ways to ensure maritime security and protect some of the world’s busiest trade routes,” he said.

A day before his visit, the US Embassy in Jakarta said in a statement that the US government respects “Indonesia’s strong efforts to safeguard its maritime rights and stand up to PRC aggression in the South China Sea, including in its Exclusive Economic Zone around the Natuna Islands”.

The Indonesian government has made it clear it has no overlapping jurisdictions with China and around Natuna in Riau Islands Province and that it never recognizes the so-called nine-dash line -- a territorial claim by Beijing that encompasses 90 percent of disputed areas in the South China Sea and goes deep into Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone in northern maritime borders. 

The government has said earlier it has no overlapping jurisdictions with China and that it never recognizes the so-called nine-dash line -- a territorial claim by Beijing that encompasses 90 percent of disputed areas in the South China Sea and goes deep into Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone in northern maritime borders.

The statement came in January following alleged border trespass by Chinese fishing boats and Coast Guard in the area.

The Indonesian Military has beefed up security and surveillance in the North Natuna Sea in response to the incident.

Pompeo also promised financial assistance for Indonesia’s Covid-19 responses.

“We’ve been proud to provide roughly $11 million in US government assistance, part of the more than $20 billion the United States has pledged around the world of public and private money for the global COVID response.  This is by far the most in the world,” he said.

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Retno said Indonesia is determined to keep the South China Sea as a “a stable and peaceful” region and indicated that China’s territorial claims in Indonesia's EEZ in the North Natuna Sea are in violation to the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“Any claims should be based on universally recognized principle of international law, including UNCLOS 1982,” she said.

Pompeo was later received by President Joko Widodo at his official residence in the Bogor Palace, just south of Jakarta.

Retno said the president expressed appreciation for Pompeo’s second visit to the country, which was made during the global pandemic.

During the closed-door meeting, the president told Pompeo that Indonesia is willing to make the US its “true friend”, Retno said. 

“Indonesia wants America to become a true friend, but everything cannot be taken for granted. We both must nurture the relationship," Retno quoted the president as telling Pompeo.

"The president also intends to enhance defense cooperation with the United States,” she said.

“And the president also wants the US to understand the interests of Muslim countries.”
 

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