Indonesia Deploys Special Combat Squad to South China Sea

This picture taken at sea on December 28, 2018 shows a sailor on board the Indonesian Navy ship KRI Torani (860) using binoculars to view the volcano known as the "child" of Krakatoa, following the December 22 tsunami that was caused by activity at the volcano. - The number of …
ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty

Indonesia’s navy said this week that it plans to move its combat squad’s headquarters to the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea to defend Jakarta’s territorial interests from incursions by Chinese vessels.

The Natuna island chain is located at the southern edge of the South China Sea in waters that Indonesia refers to as the Natuna Sea. Relocating the combat force headquarters from Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, to the Natunas would enable Indonesia’s navy to respond more quickly to potential incidents in the South China Sea, according to Indonesia’s Navy Chief of Staff, Adm. Yudo Margono.

“The combat squad headquartered in Jakarta is tasked with enforcing sovereignty at sea. The area of operations includes the Natuna Sea. So it will be more effective if we assign the combat force in the Natuna Sea,” Adm. Yudo said in a speech in Jakarta on Monday, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

“This will allow the Guspurla [combat squad] commander to directly lead the battleships in the combat force there,” he added.

Although Adm. Yudo did not specify when the Indonesian Navy plans to relocate Gurspurla’s headquarters to the Natunas, he said the move would be permanent. The combat squad serves under Indonesia’s Naval Fleet Command I, operating “four frigates and corvettes – the KRI John Lee, KRI Wiratno, KRI Sutanto, and KRI Cut Nyak Dien – as well as one CN235 aircraft,” according to RFA.

Beijing illegally claims historic rights to parts of the South China Sea that overlap with Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), or an area extending about 200 nautical miles from a coastal country’s shore. A nation is entitled to special rights within its EEZ, including the exploration and use of marine resources, even though the space remains international territory. EEZs were established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

An Indonesian Navy patrol ship confronted a China Coast Guard vessel in mid-September after it spent nearly three days intruding upon the archipelago’s EEZ near the Natuna Islands. The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (BAKAMLA) said it deployed a patrol ship that closed within 0.6 miles of the Chinese vessel. The Indonesian ship communicated to affirm its position and legal claims to the waters, BAKAMLA chief Aan Kurnia explained at the time.

“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, adding that he reported the incident to Indonesian government ministers.

Kurnia referred to China’s “nine-dash-line” map of the South China Sea, which Beijing uses to delineate its so-called historical rights to the body of water. A 2016 arbitral ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague invalidated China’s claims to almost 90 percent of the South China Sea. Beijing rejected the ruling and has continued to push forward with its illegal claims to the sea since then.

In recent months, China has used the global distraction caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to ramp up its aggressive activity in the South China Sea.

“In early 2020, Indonesia sent fighter jets and ships to drive away Chinese fishing boats and coast guard ships which, Jakarta said, were encroaching in its EEZ in the area,” RFA recalled on Monday.

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