Indonesia, South China Sea, and US-ASEAN Summit

Indonesia, South China Sea, and US-ASEAN Summit

Map conflicts between states territorial claims in the South China Sea. (inquirer.net)

Indonesia is not involved in the overlapping claims of Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, but President Joko Widodo has echoed Indonesia`s official stance: "The South China Sea region must become peaceful and stable".
Bogor, W Java (ANTARA News) - The US-ASEAN leaders have wrapped up their special summit in Sunnylands, California, on Tuesday with a declaration that is favourable for the White Houses position in dealing with the South China Sea problem.

This favorable wording of the Sunnylands Declaration for Washington regarding the issue of disputed South China Sea territories is obviously seen in three of 17 points written in the US-ASEAN leaders joint statement.

The points reveal the US-ASEAN leaders shared commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

They also cemented a shared commitment to maintaining peace, security and stability in the region, ensuring maritime security and safety, including the rights of freedom of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the seas, and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce as described in the 1982 UNCLOS as well as non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of activities.

The leaders of the United States, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam who met in Sunnylands were also committed to "promoting cooperation to address common challenges in the maritime domain".

Although there is no particular word of South China Sea in the Sunnylands Declaration, President Barack Obamas statement during a press conference at the end of the two-day summit clarified it.

Speaking at the US-ASEAN Press Conference, he bluntly mentioned the South China Sea. "We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions, including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas. Freedom of navigation must be upheld and lawful commerce should not be impeded".

The US-China rivalry in connection with the disputed South China Sea has become so obvious.

In December 2015, for instance, a US Air Forces B-52 strategic bomber reportedly flew too close to the Chinese-claimed territory in the South China Sea. This incident has angered Beijing by accusing Washington of making a "serious military provocation" (The Telegraph, 2015).

In response to this overflight-related incident, Obama reiterated that the United States would continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows at the maritime territories.

"We will support the right of all countries to do the same. We will continue to help our allies and partners strengthen their maritime capabilities."

In resolving the South China Sea disputes between claimants, a peaceful resolution should be promoted through what Obama said as "legal means such as the upcoming arbitration ruling under the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas, which the parties are obligated to respect and abide by".

Indonesia is not involved in the overlapping claims of Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea because it is a non-claimant state.

But, the rising tension between China and other claimants, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia, will threaten peace and stability in the region, which directly affects Indonesias national interest.

Therefore, in dealing with this regional dispute, the best position for Jakarta is preserving its neutrality but it also needs to actively promote a peaceful resolution by considering the geographical proximity of its Natuna Island to the South China Sea.

During a working dinner of the US-ASEAN leaders in Sunnylands, President Joko Widodo has echoed Indonesias official stance: "The South China Sea region must become peaceful and stable.(*)

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