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Development and Settlement of Disputes

National Interests and the Role of Major and Middle Powers in the South China Sea: The Case of Indonesia

Author: Shafiah Muhibat

NASSP Issue Brief Series Issue 1, No. 4.3 (2016)

The following are excerpts of the paper:

Though officially not a claimant state, Indonesia finds it difficult to turn its back on developments related to the South China Sea. Although consistently claiming itself to be outside of the disputes and playing the role as an honest broker, there have been incidents when Indonesia’s position has been questioned. Reading commentaries and news in the media makes one wonder whether it is in the interest of some parties to persuade Indonesia to commit as a direct party in these disputes.

This year (2016) has witnessed many developments related to the South China Sea. The principal issue is the ruling of the arbitral tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). The Philippines, as one of the claimants, filed an objection in 2013. In July this year the Tribunal ruled against China’s claim on the South China Sea, which is marked by a nine-dash line. The decision was based on the consideration that China’s claim did not have any legal basis. The claim, which is based on China’s historic rights, failed because it was not in accordance with Exclusive Economic Zones as determined by the United Nations.

Following the Tribunal ruling, countries responded in various manners. For Indonesia, the official stance of the Indonesian government was announced by the foreign minister, who called on all parties to prioritise peace, maintain stability, practice self-restraint, and respect international law, particularly the UN Convention on the 1982 Law of the Sea. In contrast, China has responded to the Tribunal’s determination by stating that it will not accept it. Dismissing the court’s authority, China denounced the ruling as empty and asserted that the Tribunal has no binding power.

This background paper seeks to highlight where Indonesia stands in the disputes, particularly several incidents throughout 2016 and the official foreign policy stance as issued by the Foreign Ministry. Moreover, this paper seeks to determine what role Indonesia plays in efforts to manage the ongoing conflict, particularly the role of Indonesia in the ASEAN framework in relation to the South China Sea disputes.


Concluding Notes

As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, there are calls for Indonesia not only to play a greater role in dispute resolution, but also to acknowledge its direct involvement in the SCS disputes. However, this is still highly unlikely, judging by how Indonesia has conducted negotiations at the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in July and the Summit in September. Indonesia’s stance is founded on its non-claimant status. Otherwise, Indonesia risks placing itself in the uncomfortable position of justifying China’s request to negotiate over the maritime boundary and even legitimising China’s claim that a border dispute exists – something that many Indonesian foreign ministers have been both denying and attempting to avoid.

Download the full publication at https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au [PDF]

Related articles: 

Development and Settlement of the Disputes: https://seasresearch.wordpress.com/category/development-and-settlement-of-disputes/


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