Indonesia beefs up patrols after China fishing boat spat

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesia is stepping up sea and aerial patrols of islands near the disputed South China Sea, an official said yesterday, following a diplomatic spat over “trespassing” Chinese vessels.

Military aircraft and three warships with some 600 navy, army and air force personnel have been deployed to waters around the Natuna islands, which borders the South China Sea.

Indonesia has detained Chinese vessels in the fishing-rich waters in the past. “Territorial violations by foreign vessels in Indonesian exclusive economic zone are a threat to Indonesian sovereignty,” Defence Commander Vice Admiral Yudo Margono said in a statement.

Vice Admiral Yudo Margono, front left, inspects Indonesian troops at Natuna military base. (Photo: AFP)

The move comes after Indonesia summoned the Chinese ambassador this week and lodged a “strong protest” over a Chinese coast guard vessel escorting Chinese fishing boats around the islands in mid-December. B\eijing responded that it has “historic rights” in the region and that fishing boats had been carrying out “legal and reasonable” activities.

Indonesia does not have a claim in the South China Sea, but said it would not tolerate incursions by China – a key trading partner – into its nearby waters.