The Indonesian government has since been engaged in a bitter standoff with China when a Chinese boat deliberately trespassed Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone off the coast of the northern islands of Natuna, leading Indonesians officials to issue a “strong protest” and summon the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta.
The situation became even more complicated when the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang had said China had sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their waters and that both China and Indonesia have “normal” fishing activities there.
Therefore, Indonesia then responded by reminding China that the waters up north of the Natuna Islands were well within Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone under UNCLOS 1982 where, ironically, China was also a signatory member which meant that it is duty-bound to acknowledge Indonesia’s claim.
Just as always. China ignored the Indonesia’s strong protest and continued to puncture through Indonesia’s EEZ with its armada of fishing boats.
According to the Indonesian Coast Guard. There have been several Chinese fishing vessels at around 30 locations near Natuna islands. At each spot, there can be up to two boats fishing in Indonesian waters. Also, they’ve sighted three Chinese coast guard vessels in the area which appears to be protecting the convoy of Chinese ships.
This in turn prompted a response from the Indonesian navy, which deployed an additional four warships to patrol its waters along with its own armada of fishing vessels to counter China.
What about the Philippines? What was our stance in the West Philippine Sea despite China’s repeated incursions and illegal fishing activities within Philippine waters?
Well, as always. There’s no improvement. Duterte’s foreign policy appears to be anchored in its continued appeasement towards China in exchange of loans, investments and other favors.
In fact, we have lost Sandy Cay because Duterte ordered the Philippine navy to decrease its presence in the area which allowed the Chinese navy to move and occupy Sandy Cay.
Sandy Cay lies over 4 nautical miles from Pag-asa Island, which is part of Palawan province. The cay serves as a traditional rest and recreation area for residents and visitors of the island.
The basing of Chinese vessels in the Cay followed the course of Scarborough Shoal, where China has already exercised a “de facto” control following a standoff between a patrol vessel of the China Marine Surveillance and the Philippine Navy’s flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar in 2012.
Unless the Navy can drive away the Chinese ships or would challenge them—and this time, without the Philippine government blinking—Beijing could very soon add Sandy Cay, located just 2.5 miles off Pag-asa Island, to its annexed territory in the WPS. That is the worst fear of some experts who have studied the maritime disputes extensively, among them Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.
Thus, you can be sure that once Sandy Cay falls into Chinese hands, then this would give China an excuse to claim Thitu Island (Pag-asa Island) as well which is the last of Philippine held features in the West Philippine Sea.
Unless, of course, the Philippine foreign policy would change and like Indonesia, deploy its troops and navy in the area as well as use its own armada of fishing vessels to occupy and prevent China from puncturing through Philippine EEZ.
However, I won’t be expecting that this would change so long as our current sitting President is blinded by the spell of Chinese loans and investments which may add an additional burden to our economy in years due to its high-interest rates. While ultimately losing much of our sovereign territory in the West Philippine Sea.