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The Indonesia-China standoff, explained

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published on January 9, 2020 - Duration: 02:02s

The Indonesia-China standoff, explained

One of the biggest standoffs in the South China Sea in years is souring relations between Indonesia and its biggest trading partner, China.

Michelle Hennessy reports.

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The Indonesia-China standoff, explained

Indonesia is standing up to China, and asserting its sovereignty over an island in waters disputed by Beijing.

When President Widodo made a special visit to the Natuna Besar island, he told reporters there: "There are no more debates.

De facto, de jure, Natuna is Indonesia".

It's developing into one of the biggest stand-offs in the South China Sea in years between two countries on generally friendly terms. China is Indonesia's biggest trading partner, and a major investor in the Southeast Asian nation.

But the issue of Natuna risks souring relations.

It all started in mid-December.

A Chinese coast guard vessel and fishing boats entered waters off the coast of the northern Natuna islands.

A testy exchange ensued: (SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIDENTIFIED INDONESIAN COAST GUARD SAYING: "As information sir you are in Indonesian waters." (SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIDENTIFIED CHINESE COAST GUARD SAYING: "[…] China has an indisputable warranty of over islands in South China Sea, under uncharted waters, enjoys the sovereign rights of the jurisdiction in the relevant water as well as the seabed in the southern shore." (SOUNDBITE) (English) UNIDENTIFIED INDONESIAN COAST GUARD SAYING: "I order you sir to leave this territory, I order you to leave this territory." That standoff pushed Indonesia to summon China's ambassador.

And now, its deploying more ships and fighter jets to patrol the surrounding waters.

China has never actually claimed the Natuna Islands themselves.

But it does claim to have fishing rights nearby - within a self-proclaimed area that includes most of the South China Sea.

It's a global trade route with rich fishing grounds and energy reserves.

The U.S. and much of the rest of the world say China's hold on the area has no legal basis, and it's been at the center of territorial disputes for years.

China says its opened diplomatic channels with Indonesia to resolve this latest stand-off.

And an Indonesian politician told Reuters, quote: "What's the point of war?

Nothing.

Wars are the last step to a failing diplomatic process."

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