EXCLUSIVE China protested against Indonesian drilling and military exercises

SYDNEY / JAKARTA, Dec. 1 (Reuters) – China has called on Indonesia to stop drilling for oil and natural gas in maritime territory the two countries see as theirs amid a months-long standoff in the South China Sea earlier this year, four people familiar with the case told Reuters.

Unprecedented demand, which was not previously reported, has increased tensions over natural resources between the two countries in a volatile area of ​​global strategic and economic importance.

A letter from Chinese diplomats to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry clearly told Indonesia to stop drilling on a temporary offshore platform because it was taking place on Chinese territory, according to Muhammad Farhan, an Indonesian lawmaker from the parliamentary committee on national security, which was informed of the letter.

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“Our response was very firm, that we are not going to stop drilling because it is our sovereign right,” Farhan told Reuters.

A spokesperson for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said: “All diplomatic communication between states is private in nature and its content cannot be shared.” He declined to comment further.

The Chinese Embassy in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, did not respond to a request for comment.

Three other people, who said they had been informed of the matter, confirmed the existence of the letter. Two of those people said China has repeatedly called on Indonesia to stop drilling.

Largest country in Southeast Asia claims the southern end of the South China Sea is its exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and has named the region the Natuna Sea of the North in 2017.

During a months-long standoff at sea, China has called on Indonesia to stop drilling for oil and gas in the tuna block in the South China Sea, an area which the two countries say is part of their sovereign territory.

China opposed the name change and insists the waterway is part of its broader South China Sea land claim that it marks with a U-shaped “nine-dash line”, a border ruled without legal basis by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016.

“It was (the letter) a little threatening because it was the first effort by Chinese diplomats to push their nine-line agenda against our rights under the law of the sea,” Farhan told Reuters .

China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner and second-largest source of investment, making it a key part of Indonesia’s ambition to become a leading economy. Indonesian leaders have remained silent on the matter in order to avoid a conflict or diplomatic row with China, Farhan and two of the others who spoke to Reuters said.

Farhan said China, in a separate letter, also protested the predominantly land-based military exercises of the Garuda Shield in August, which took place during the standoff.

The exercises, involving 4,500 troops from the United States and Indonesia, have been a regular occurrence since 2009. It was China’s first protest against them, according to Farhan. “In its official letter, the Chinese government expressed concern about the stability of security in the region,” he said.


Days after the semi-submersible Noble Clyde Boudreaux arrived at the Tuna Block in the Natuna Sea to drill two appraisal wells on June 30, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel was at the scene, according to reports. data on vessel movements. He was soon joined by an Indonesian Coast Guard vessel.

In response to questions from Reuters, China’s Foreign Ministry said the Chinese coastguard vessel “was performing normal patrol activities in waters under Chinese jurisdiction.” He did not respond to questions about communications with Indonesia about the drilling.

China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Over the next four months, Chinese and Indonesian ships passed each other around the oil and gas field, frequently approaching within a nautical mile of each other, according to an analysis of data from vessel identification and satellite images by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a project led by the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Data and images reviewed by AMTI and the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), an independent Jakarta-based think tank, show that a Chinese research vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 10, arrived in the region late August, spending most of the next seven weeks. slowly moving through a grid of the adjacent D-Alpha Block, an oil and gas reserve also in disputed waters valued at $ 500 billion by Indonesian government studies.

“Based on the movement pattern, nature and property of the vessel, it appeared to be conducting a scientific study of the D-Alpha reserve,” said Jeremia Humolong, researcher at IOJI.

On September 25, the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan approached within 7 nautical miles of the Tuna Block drilling platform. “This is the first observed case of a US aircraft carrier operating in such proximity to an ongoing standoff” in the South China Sea, AMTI said in a report released in November.

Four Chinese warships have also been deployed to the region, according to IOJI and local fishermen.

A spokesperson for the US Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 5 / Task Force 70 declined to disclose the distance between the carrier and the platform.

‘NEVER Surrender’

China is in negotiations with 10 Southeast Asian states, including Indonesia, to develop a code of conduct for the South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway carrying at least $ 3.4 trillion in annual trade. The talks, under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), resumed this year after being halted due to the pandemic.

Beijing’s increasingly aggressive stance in the South China Sea has raised concerns in Jakarta, four sources told Reuters.

Indonesia has not officially claimed any area of ​​the South China Sea under United Nations rules, saying the extent of its waters is already clearly defined by international law.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has tried to play down tensions between himself and Southeast Asian states, saying at a summit of China-ASEAN leaders last month that China “will absolutely not seek hegemony or even less, will intimidate the little ones “in the region.

Farhan told Reuters that the Indonesian government has publicly played down the tension of the standoff. Its leaders wanted to be “as silent as possible because if it leaked to any media it would create a diplomatic incident,” he said.

The temporary platform operated until November 19, after which it entered Malaysian waters. Indonesian Security Minister Mahfud MD visited the Natuna Sea last week. He said his visit had nothing to do with China, but said in a public statement that Indonesia “will never cede an inch” of territory.

The drilling was completed on time, according to a spokesperson for Harbor Energy, the operator of the Tuna block. In a similar confrontation with China in 2017, Vietnam abandoned its exploration activities. Harbor Energy is expected to release an update on drilling results on December 9.

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Reporting by Tom Allard and Kate Lamb in Sydney, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta Editing by Bill Rigby

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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