Wednesday’s Indonesia defence and military links: Natuna Islands edition

I’d like to kick things off with a bit of discussion about Indonesia’s strategic environment. At the office today we talked a little bit about the Natuna Islands in light of Scott Bentley’s Strategist post on China’s nine-dash line and Indonesia. Scott’s post explores a less publicised but no less severe incident in March this year between Chinese and Indonesian maritime security forces in the Natuna EEZ. In his words:

China’s growing enforcement of its expansive claims poses a direct threat to the national security of Indonesia. With this tension between neutrality and self-interest becoming more pronounced in recent years, analysts such as [Ristian Atriandi] Supriyanto have begun to question whether this new dynamic may lead Indonesia to begin to ‘balance’ against China in the years ahead, along with its other neighbours. Indeed, there may be elements of such behaviour already becoming evident in Indonesia’s broader security strategy.

If you haven’t read the post yet, check it out. Scott and Ristian raise some questions about how Indonesia sees the strategic landscape. Despite misgivings about the US pivot and what this means for ASEAN (read: Indonesian) centrality in regional security affairs, it’s becoming harder for Indonesia to deny China’s behaviour in the South China Sea isn’t a problem for it anyway.

Rewind back to June this year when Indonesia announced it would host the Komodo multilateral joint exercise on disaster relief near the Natuna Islands in 2014. Sea Combat Task Force chief of the Indonesian Navy Western Fleet Commodore Amrullah Octavian said the following:

“The exercise will focus on naval capabilities in disaster relief, but we will also pay attention to the aggressive stance of the Chinese government by entering the Natuna area,” said Amarullah.

“We want to explain that our foreign police stipulates that Natuna is part of Indonesia.”

He added there was a political agenda in the multilateral joint exercise that was to show to participating countries that Natuna was part of Indonesia.

“Currently there has been no claim from China over the Natuna area but we do not want the Sipadan-Ligitan incident to happen again,” said Amarullah.

With a white paper due out in 2014, I’ll be keen to see how diplomatically Indonesia frames its strategic outlook. Welcome your thoughts!

Image source: Alan Ariansya.

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