Territorial disputes: South China Sea (Part 10) [Post 125]

South China Sea and Indonesia

While Chinese claims and actions in the South China Sea have touched all of the sea’s littoral countries, the Chinese dispute with Indonesia is often overshadowed by more fraught disputes with countries closer to the Chinese mainland, in particular the Philippines and Vietnam.

Like many other territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the origin of the contemporary dispute between China and Indonesia can be found in the infamous 1947 map drawn by Nationalist Chinese diplomats featuring a dashed line encircling much of the South China Sea. The geography of the dashed line on Chinese maps varies; however, in every version, one of the dashes intersects the northern boundary of Indonesia’s declared EEZ north of the Natunas, around 1400 kilometres from the Chinese mainland. The waters in the disputed area are an important fishery and the seabed below is home to large natural gas reserves.

On 14 July 2017 Deputy Minister of Maritime Affairs Arif Havas Oegroseno officially launched the new map of the Republic of Indonesia, pointing out that the Natuna Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been renamed as “Laut Natuna Utara” (North Natuna Sea). The area is part of the South China Sea. Moreover, the Natuna EEZ lies partially within China’s “Nine-Dash Line”, which has not been recognized by Indonesia.

Natuna Regency has area size of 264,198.37 km2, consisting mostly of water area, with area of 262,197.07 km2, and the rest is islands, with area of 2001.3 km2. Population size of Natuna Regency in 2016 is 73.470 people. Natuna Regency is one of 183 regions in Indonesia categorized as UOF (Underdeveloped, Outermost, and Frontmost), where administratively this region shares borders with:

  • North Side: Vietnam and Cambodia.
  • South Side: Bintan Island.
  • East Side: East Malaysia and West Kalimantan.
  • West Side: Anambas Islands Regency.
  • Natuna regency has 154 islands, with 27 islands (17.53%) are inhabited and the rests (127 islands) are not inhabited yet.

China, for its part, recognises that Indonesia is arguably the most important member of ASEAN. It has the largest economy of the group, is the sixteenth-largest economy in nominal GDP terms in the world, the seventh-largest in purchasing-power parity terms, is a member of the G-20 group and, geo-strategically, adjoins the Strait of Malacca, the waterway through which around 80 per cent of China’s energy imports are shipped.

Indonesia’s growing economy has made it a desirable destination for Chinese manufactured goods and an important market because it also has the world’s fourth-largest population. Its membership in ASEAN, additionally, makes it a desirable political associate and its geographic location could, if properly persuaded, ensure the security of China’s energy imports upon which it depends to keep its manufacturing base and economy moving forward.Indonesia, moreover, overtook India as the world’s second-fastest growing economy in 2012 and although that ranking has since been reversed again, its economy continues to grow at around five per cent per annum.

Indonesia in the South China Sea Link to document
What Does Indonesia’s Renaming of Part of the South China Sea Signify? Link to document
Study on Development of Natuna Regency Link to document
Indonesian Foreign Policy: The China Factor Link to document


This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty. International Law and Politics (Routledge 2020).Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.


South China Sea and Cambodia (available on Monday 7th September 2020).

Friday 24th July 2020

Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez

Twitter: @DrJorge_World


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