JAKARTA â€“ Indonesia is determined to assert its exclusive right to a corner of the South China Sea where there has been a run of skirmishes between Indonesian navy ships and Chinese vessels, Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said on Monday.
Jusuf Kalla told Reuters that Indonesia would send a message to Beijing demanding that it respect the Southeast Asian nationâ€™s sovereignty over waters around the Natuna Islands.
Chinaâ€™s Foreign Ministry said over the weekend that an Indonesian naval vessel fired on a Chinese fishing boat near the chain of islands on Friday, injuring one person.
Indonesiaâ€™s navy responded that it had fired warning shots at several boats with Chinese flags it accused of fishing illegally but there were no injuries.
It was the third reported confrontation near the Natuna Islands this year and comes amid rising regional tensions over Chinaâ€™s assertiveness in the South China Sea.
â€œThis is not a clash, but we are protecting the area,â€ Kalla said in an interview with Reuters at the presidential palace.
Asked if the Indonesian government had made a decision to be more assertive, he said: â€œYes, we will continue.â€
Asked about Kallaâ€™s remarks on Monday, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for Chinaâ€™s Foreign Ministry, said China had expressed condemnation of the â€œindiscriminate use of force.â€
â€œWe urge the Indonesian side to refrain from any action that complicates or magnifies the dispute, or impacts the peace and stability of the region,â€ Hua said.
Indonesia is not part of a broader regional dispute over Chinaâ€™s reclamation activities in the South China Sea and Beijingâ€™s claims on swathes of key waterways.
But Jakarta has objected to Chinaâ€™s inclusion of parts of the Indonesian-ruled Natuna Islands within a â€œnine-dash lineâ€ Beijing marks on maps to show its claim on the body of water.
China has said it does not dispute Indonesiaâ€™s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, but Kalla said its ships sometimes claim that they have the right to operate in waters around the islands because they are â€œtraditional Chinese fishing grounds.â€
â€œBut we are focused on the legal basis,â€ Kalla said, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. â€œWe will send a message to the other side to honor the area in accordance with the law.â€
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
(Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)
By Kanupriya Kapoor and John Chalmers (Reuters)