Indonesia wants to protect its national interest regarding the sovereignty of the Natuna Islands, and not promote that of the United States in its geopolitical conflict with China, says Hikmahanto Juwana, an expert in international law at the University of Indonesia in comments to told AsiaNews.
On October 28, during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi encouraged US companies to invest in Natuna, at the center of maritime disputes with Beijing.
Until a few months ago, Indonesian leaders kept a low profile in matters of territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Only the northern edge of the country is lapped by its waters, in correspondence with the Natuna islands. The Chinese make no claims on this archipelago of 272 islands, but claim the right to exploit its fish-rich waters, a fact that is met with strong opposition from Jakarta.
Jakarta rejects China’s territorial claims on the South China Sea. In an official note sent to the United Nations in May, the Indonesian government acknowledged the validity of the ruling of the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which in 2016 defined Chinese claims on almost 90% of this vast mirror of water as “baseless”.
With Washington’s support, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also contest Chinese claims. In his meeting with Pompeo, Marsudi reiterated that territorial disputes in the region must be resolved on the basis of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, according to which the waters in front of Natuna fall within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
In 2019, the stock of US foreign direct investment in Indonesia reached $ 12.4 billion, an increase of 18.7% over the previous year. Last month, US-based Kimberley-Clark completed the $ 1.2 billion acquisition of Indonesian Softex. Air Products, a Pennsylvania-based company, announced $ 2 billion in investments to produce methanol in Bengalon (East Kalimantan) earlier this year.
“The US International Development Finance Corporation – underlined Pompeo – is catalysing investments in Indonesian infrastructure, digital and energy sectors”. According to the head of US diplomacy, US funding will help Indonesia fill an infrastructure gap of $ 1.5 trillion.
Washington is Jakarta’s number one military partner. Despite this, the Indonesian executive does not intend to take an open line against China. Marsudi stated that the United States and Indonesia share the vision of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific area, where freedom of navigation and air space are respected. However, the Indonesian executive is ready to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership next month, an agreement promoted by Beijing for the creation of a large free trade zone in the Western Pacific.