Be vigilant, Chinese embassy in Jakarta says as fishing row adds to anti-Beijing sentiment

Laura Zhou

The Chinese embassy in Jakarta has cautioned its citizens to be vigilant, amid growing anti-China protests in Indonesia and the two countries’ stand-off in the South China Sea.

In a reminder issued on Monday, the embassy said: “Chinese citizens and organisations in Indonesia should increase awareness and intensify security measures while watching closely over local situations and avoiding crowded places.”

Without specifying, the embassy said the reminder was issued in the wake of growing protests in the country.

Effective until the end of January, the notice was issued following a fortnight in which relations between China and Indonesia have soured, after dozens of Chinese fishing boats, escorted by coastguard vessels, trespassed in waters off the coast of the northern Natuna islands, part of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

Jakarta said the Chinese ships refused to leave after communication by radio. The Indonesian foreign ministry summoned the Chinese ambassador in Jakarta and issued a protest.

Beijing has insisted that the Natuna waters are a traditional fishing area for Chinese boats, and said the coastguard vessels were carrying out a “normal patrol to maintain order”. China claims over 80 per cent of the South China Sea as its territory, but its neighbours and much of the world say such claims have no legal basis.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the two sides should resolve disputes through dialogue.

Indonesia-Beijing dispute could lead to tough South China Sea code

But Jakarta appears to be undeterred. In an unusually strong statement issued on Monday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that “there’s no negotiation” regarding sovereignty. Indonesia is sending more warships and fishing boats – carrying about 120 fishers from the island of Java – to the Natuna islands to defend them against the Chinese vessels, according to Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD.

Muslim stage an anti-China rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Surabaya, East Java, last month. Photo: AFP
Muslim stage an anti-China rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Surabaya, East Java, last month. Photo: AFP

Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s former minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, has urged her government to take firm action.

“When [someone] invests [in Indonesia], we respect and protect them,” she wrote on Twitter on Monday. “When [someone] steals, we catch and sink.”

Asean members up the ante on South China Sea amid code of conduct talks

The latest stand-off has further raised tensions between China and Indonesia that had already been high in recent months. There have been protests in Indonesia, the world’s largest majority-Muslim country, demanding an end to China’s mass internment of mostly Muslim ethnic groups in its far-western Xinjiang region.

Since early 2017, the Chinese government has reportedly detained some 1 million Uygurs and other ethnic minorities in mass internment camps where inmates are subjected to political indoctrination. Beijing claims the facilities are “vocational training centres” and says they are a legitimate response to the threat of religious extremism.

South China Sea: Vietnam urges Beijing to ‘show restraint’ in 2020

In late December, more than 1,000 Muslims marched to the Chinese embassy in the Indonesian capital, chanting “Get out, China” and waving banners saying “We stand with Uygurs”. The protesters also performed afternoon prayers outside the heavily guarded embassy before dispersing.

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