Indonesia’s plan to site its naval combat squad headquarters on a tiny outpost far from Jakarta shows a commitment to push back against Chinese vessels that pass offshore as part of a festering maritime sovereignty dispute, analysts in the region say, Voice of America informed.
The squad’s Jakarta headquarters will rebase in the Natuna islands, at a date not yet announced, so the navy can respond more quickly to incidents at sea, Indonesia’s navy chief of staff was quoted saying Nov. 23 by Radio Free Asia.
That squad enforces maritime sovereignty, including Indonesia’s claims in the adjacent Natuna Sea, where Chinese coast guard vessels and fishing fleets periodically pass — rankling leaders in Jakarta. The squad commander could “directly lead the battleships in the combat force there,” naval chief of staff Yudo Margono was quoted saying.
“In general, the idea is that if there is a potential regional conflict in which the navy’s combat activities and plans have to be activated, it would be around the South China Sea,” said Evan Laksamana, senior researcher for the Center for Strategic and International Studies research group in Jakarta, told VOA.
The squad operates four vessels and a CN-235 transport aircraft. Its relocation would fit with 15-year-old government plans for bolstering defenses on “strategic” outlying islands including the Natuna chain, Laksamana said. The 272 Natuna islands lie about 1,100 kilometers from Jakarta.
Indonesia’s navy has acquired more weaponry over the years and the coast guard vowed in September to step up patrols. Together they must scour the seas around 13,000 islands for terrorists, pirates and illegal migration as well as vessels from China and sometimes Vietnam.
Indonesian vessels including nonmilitary units have already expelled a list of Chinese ships from an exclusive economic zone extending as far as 370 kilometers out to sea from the Natuna chain.
In 2016, Indonesia contended with a string of incidents that crested in a standoff with China during an effort to arrest people aboard Chinese fishing vessels. Indonesia sent fighter jets in January this year to drive away Chinese fishing boats and coast guard ships. In September a Chinese coast guard ship passed through Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone until Jakarta’s Maritime Security Agency drove it off.