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Indonesia adopts a cautious stance while China's inspection ship lingers nearby

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Officials in Indonesia have insisted that the Chinese ship did nothing wrong and that any foreign ships are welcome to transit through the Natuna Sea.


Despite public criticism, Indonesia appears to be maintaining a calm, cautious approach at sea a month and a half after a huge Chinese survey vessel entered the Natuna Sea.

The Haiyang Dizhi 10 has been operating in the North Natuna Sea near the Tuna Block, a key oil and gas development, since Aug. 31.
In late September, it took a few days off to resupply, but it returned to the location in early October.


Even though experts pointed out that the grid-like pattern created by the Chinese ship is typical of a marine bottom survey, Jakarta has played down its presence.
Domestic pressure has grown, with some experts, such as Imam Prakoso of the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative, claiming that the Haiyang Dizhi 10 is likely to have been "carrying out criminal research activity."


When the Haiyang Dizhi 10 re-entered Indonesia's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Oct. 5, Imam told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news agency, that the Indonesian government needed to take "strong measures."
"Do they have permission or not?" says the narrator.
If not, it’s clearly illegal because we have clear rules regarding scientific research activities at sea,” he said.

However, Indonesia's Coordinating Minister of Maritime and Investment Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, dismissed worries about the Natuna Sea on Monday.


"We support freedom of navigation in the Natuna Sea," Luhut stated at a presentation on "The Role of Indonesia in a Global Setting" at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Officials in Indonesia have insisted that the Chinese ship did nothing wrong and that any foreign ships are welcome to transit through the Natuna Sea.

"I believe Indonesia is extremely selective in how and when it reacts and responds to China's assertiveness, which I would even call provocation, in the Natuna Sea," Huong Le Thu, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said.


Many Indonesian thinkers, she said, are optimistic that they can deal with China through conversation, which takes time.
"China has been modernising its military capability, reclaiming islands in the South China Sea, and expanding in ambition," she continued.

"I don't believe we have as much time as many in Jakarta believe," Huong stated.


Nonetheless, some Indonesian analysts say Jakarta has made unseen but determined attempts to safeguard its national interests in the Natuna Sea.

"The deployment of warships and cutters by the Indonesian Navy and Bakamla (the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency) to shadow Haiyang Dizhi demonstrates (the) Indonesian position," said Satya Pratama, a current senior government official and a former Bakamla commander.

He told BenarNews that "it does not have to resort to some affirmative action like ramming or such."

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