Sharing a room with one’s sibling can result in ceaseless bickering, especially over space issues. Now imagine what shenanigans may arise when six countries have overlapping claims to one sea. Territorial disputes over the South China Sea arose after Chinese trawlers invaded Indonesia’s waters last week.

According to Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Indonesian navy fired warning shots in the air after Chinese vessels refused to stop fishing off the Natuna Islands. China’s foreign ministry said one boat was damaged and one crew member was injured while another boat was detained with seven guarded fishermen on board. They were rescued by Chinese coast guards operating nearby and the injured fisherman was successfully treated in Hainan.

Two Chinese trawlers stop directly in front of...
Two Chinese trawlers stop directly in front of the Impeccable, forcing the ship to conduct an emergency “all stop” in order to avoid collision. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rear Admiral A. Taufiq R., commander of Indonesia’s Western Fleet told reporters in Jakarta, “We suspect that this is structured activity because they were guarded, which means that it was blessed by the government.”

“This incident took place in waters that are Chinese fishermen’s traditional fishing grounds and where China and Indonesia have overlapping claims for maritime rights and interests,” stated Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying on China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

However, in November of last year, China issued a public statement on the Natuna Islands. Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman said, “The Indonesian side has no territorial claim to China’s [Spratly Islands]. The Chinese side has no objection to Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands.”

“China raised a protest because they think that the area is theirs,” Taufiq said in a statement. “We need to resolve this issue. If not, they will make a one-sided claim to the waters.”

In the late 1940’s, China laid claims to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea and issued a map in 1947 detailing their stakes. As a result, China’s neighbors, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan drew up their own marital claims as well.


Map of the South China Sea
Map of the South China Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clashes over maritime territory have been an ongoing issue and Indonesia, an informal claimant, has often been neutral in these conflicts. Though, Indonesia’s stance on the South China sea territorial claims may be changing ever since President Joko Widodo started cracking down on illegal fishing boats.

“We are beginning to see Indonesia reevaluate its policy on the broader South China Sea dispute, but we don’t really have the new policy yet,” said Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

According to Susi Pudjiastuti, minister for maritime affairs and fisheries, 57 ships in the Natuna area were detained by Indonesia this year for illegal fishing. Only three were Chinese boats and 49 were Vietnamese boats. “Whether they’re Thai, Chinese, even American fishermen, we would detain them just the same,” said Pudjiastuti. “Good neighbors shouldn’t steal.”

Pudjiastuti said illegal fishing trips are unsustainable and costing the economy tens of billions of dollars annually. She believes fishing vessels are rapidly exhausting the seas around the world of their resources.