Japan to Assist Indonesia in Securing the “North Natuna Sea”

13 September 2017 Jarryd de Haan, Research Analyst, Indian Ocean Research Programme

Background

Japan will provide support to Indonesia for infrastructure development along the six outer islands of Banda Aceh, Natuna, Morotai, Saumlaki, Moa and Biak. The agreement came on 6 September during a meeting between Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti and Hiroto Izumi, special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Under the agreement, Japan will assist with the development of the Indonesia fishing industry, including the construction of fishing ports and the provision of patrol boats and radar facilities to protect and better utilise the marine resources in Indonesian waters.

Comment

Indonesia contains some of the highest marine biodiversity on the planet and protecting those resources from illegal fishing is high on the agenda for the Indonesian Government. As noted in a previous Strategic Weekly Analysis, the economic impact of illegal fishing in Indonesian waters is severe, with economic losses and the damage to marine life estimated to have an annual cost of between $3 billion and $5 billion. Indonesia’s marine resources are also important to Japan. Having exported $588 million worth of fish and crustaceans to Japan in 2016, Indonesia is Japan’s eighth-largest source of imported seafood, behind South China Sea claimant Vietnam. Developing and protecting the Indonesian fishing industry does appear to be a genuine motive on the part of Tokyo. At the same time, however, there could also be geo-strategic incentives at play.

Since 2012, Japan has taken significant steps to increase the security capabilities of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), primarily with the Philippines and Vietnam – the two principal claimants in the South China Sea dispute. According to The Diplomat, Japan has committed patrol ships, reconnaissance aircraft and a $6.8 million grant to the Philippines since 2016, while providing Vietnam with $433 million in aid to improve its patrol capabilities in June this year. It is clear that concerns surrounding China’s claim in the South China Sea is a motivating factor for Japan. In a press release following Abe’s visit with his Vietnamese counterpart, it was noted that ‘Both leaders expressed deep concern over the complex developments that have been taking place in the South China Sea’.

South China Sea Nine Dash Line

Indonesia also appears to be taking a firmer stand against China’s claims in the region. On 14 July this year, Indonesian officials announced that they had renamed the waters north-east of the Natuna Islands the “North Natuna Sea” while unveiling the first territorial map produced since 2005. Prior to this, the Indonesian Government had taken steps to increase military and law enforcement capabilities in the area, with President Jokowi “Jokowi” Widodo personally witnessing military exercises on the Natuna Islands.

Further developments between Japan and Indonesia in the maritime sector will continue to unfold. Both governments agreed in January this year to continue their co-operation in the maritime sector, with Abe adding that it is a ‘top priority’ in their bilateral relationship. Brahmantya Poerwadi, an official at the Indonesian Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, also noted that further agreements are expected later this year, possibly on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit that will be held in Manila in November.

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