'We became suspicious': China's menacing move amid tense standoff

Indonesia is on high alert after a Chinese coastguard vessel was spotted near some of its islands in the South China Sea, raising suspicions about its intentions.

Chinese vessel 5204 entered Indonesia's 322km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the northern Natuna islands on September 12 and left on September 14 after radio challenges over jurisdiction, Aan Kurnia, chief of the maritime security agency, Bakamla, said.

Under international law, innocent passage is permitted through another country's EEZ but Kurnia said the vessel was lingering too long.

"Because this one floated, then went circling, we became suspicious, we approached it and learned that it was a Chinese coastguard vessel," he said, adding the navy and coastguard would boost operations in the area.

A photo of the Chinese ship released by Indonesian Maritime Security Agency. Source: Indonesian Maritime Security Agency via AP
Chinese vessel 5204 entered Indonesia's 322km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the northern Natuna islands on Saturday. Source: Indonesian Maritime Security Agency via AP

“We asked them to move out as it was Indonesia’s EEZ. But they insisted that it is China’s nine-dash line territory. Our officers at the vessel argued with them until they moved out,” Kurnia said.

Wang Wenbin, China's foreign ministry spokesman, said the ship was undertaking "normal patrol duties in waters under Chinese jurisdiction".

"China's rights and interests in the relevant waters in the South China Sea are clear," Wang told a news conference.

“As far as I know, Chinese coast guard vessels have been performing normal patrols in the waters under China’s jurisdiction.”

Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its EEZ in 2017 as the North Natuna Sea, pushing back against China's maritime territorial ambitions.

The "nine-dash line" that Beijing uses on maps denoting its claim to 90 per cent of the South China Sea includes waters off the Natuna islands.

A 2016 international arbitration ruling involving the Philippines invalidated most of China’s sweeping claims in the sea, but China has ignored the ruling and called it a sham.

Indonesia does not have a territorial claim to the South China Sea, but a section of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone that includes natural gas fields lies within China’s “nine-dash line.”

Chinese ships have regularly entered the area Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea, causing tensions between the countries.

China has in the past explained its presence in those waters on the basis of “traditional fishing rights”.

Chinese ships also regularly patrol off the island of Borneo and near James Shoal east of the Natuna islands, China’s southernmost territorial claim which Malaysia says belongs to it.

The presence of its coastguard so far from the mainland concerned Indonesia, aware of numerous encounters that Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have had with Chinese vessels inside their EEZs, which have disrupted fishing and energy activities.

with Reuters and AP

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