Move aimed at attaining bargaining chip: expert
Indonesia reportedly renamed on Friday the northern reaches of its exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea as the North Natuna Sea.
Chinese experts said that as a country which has no territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, Indonesia is aiming to gain a bargaining chip for maritime boundary delimitation, and the move would do no good to future maritime cooperation.
Arif Havas Oegroseno, deputy coordinating minister of Maritime Affairs and Resources of Indonesia, was quoted by Reuters on Friday as saying that the country wanted to update the naming of the northern side of its exclusive economic zone and "gave a new name in line with the usual practice - the North Natuna Sea."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily briefing on Friday that he didn't know anything about the details of the issue, but the name South China Sea had broad international recognition and clear geographic limits.
"Some countries' so-called renaming is meaningless … We hope the relevant country can meet China halfway and properly maintain the present good situation in the South China Sea region, which has not come easily," Geng said.
"Indonesia has no territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea but have had clashes over fishing rights and oil and gas exploitation around the regions of the South China Sea where the two have not yet finished the maritime boundary delimitation," Wang Xiaopeng, an expert on maritime and border studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Friday.
Wang said that Indonesia may want to gain a bargaining chip and build a favorable public opinion before having talks with China on the maritime boundary delimitation in the future.
"No party should complicate the situation before bilateral talks on the issue and Indonesia's move would do no good to future maritime cooperation on the South China Sea," Wang said.
An Indonesian expert on the Law of the Sea at Indonesia's Universitas Gadjah Mada was quoted by Reuters as saying that the renaming carried no legal force but was a political and diplomatic statement. And it will be seen as "a big step by Indonesia to state its sovereignty."
"Indonesian President Joko Widodo has always taken a tough stance on implementing the country's maritime strategy. There have been reports about Indonesia expelling and detaining fishermen from China and Vietnam," Chen Xiangmiao, a research fellow with the National Institute for the South China Sea, told the Global Times on Friday.
Chen said that Indonesia's move follows the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration's ruling against China's claim on South China Sea and undermines China's interests when the South China Sea issue has cooled down with joint efforts made by relevant nations.
"Aside from lodging diplomatic protests, China should add presence in the South China Sea by strengthening resources exploitation and launching exchanges with neighboring countries on economic development and dispute control," Chen said.
The South China Sea issue is the business of China and other directly concerned countries, which have agreed to focus on joint development and regional peace and stability, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kand said in an interview with the NBC News in January 2017.
Reuters cited an Indonesian expert from the Lowy Institute as saying that Indonesia's action followed renewed resistance to Chinese territorial claims by other Southeast Asian states.
"Indonesia should know that the trend to deal with the South China Sea issue via peaceful means is inevitable. There is no way for it to change the situation especially when major claimants have agreed to control disputes," Wang said.