Indonesia stands up to China in the Natuna islands
As Indonesia faced off against China in the Natuna Sea earlier this month, it agreed to strengthen maritime cooperation with Japan , in a sign of how it intends to balance its ties with its largest foreign investors.
On January 11, three Indonesian military vessels expelled more than 50 Chinese ships from its exclusive economic zone in the Natuna Sea off the coast of Borneo, after days of incursions in the fishing-rich waters bordering the South China Sea .
A day earlier, Indonesian President Joko Widodo , commonly known as Jokowi, and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi further strengthened investment agreements in fisheries, energy and tourism in the Natuna islands, where Indonesia opened a military base in December 2018.
Last year, Japan provided Indonesia with US$22.7 million to develop fishing ports on six islands, and has invested US$7.26 million to build a fish market in Natuna, which will be named Tsukiji after the famous Tokyo market.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Indonesia and Japan agreed to bolster coastguard coordination and address China’s illegal claims on the 9 dash line in the South China Sea. “We shared a serious concern regarding efforts to change with force the status quo unilaterally, and we confirmed continuing close collaboration,” Motegi said, although not directly pointing a finger at China.
Malaysia Is Standing Up To China
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad is standing up to China, at home and at sea. The South China Sea, that is.
That raises geopolitical risks for financial markets in the region.
At home, Malaysia has dared to do something Sri Lanka, Pakistan, The Maldives and the Philippines didn’t: canceling or re-negotiating inflated Chinese projects.
This week, Malaysia seized more than 1 billion ringgit ($243.5 million) from a bank account of state-owned China Petroleum Pipeline Engineering (CPP) over failed pipeline projects, according to a Reuters report.
And back in April, China agreed to trim the cost of East Coast Rail Link project by one-third.
The East Coast Rail is one of scores of China’s infrastructure projects around the world – a bid to write the next chapter of globalization and advance Beijing’s geopolitical agenda.
That’s a shift in Malaysia’s economic policies towards China following the election of Prime Minister Mohamad, who is carrying out his election campaign promise to re-negotiate China’s investments in the country -- which served the interests of Beijing more than they served the interests of Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia’s policies towards China have also shifted in another front, the South China Sea.
Abandoning the “Mahathir Doctrine,” which asserts that the way to ensure peace in the South China Sea is to keep the disputed area’s sea free of warships, Malaysia has been flexing its missile capabilities.
The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) conducted a rare show of its missile power near the disputed maritime region on 15 July as part of large-scale military drills known as Exercise 'Kerismas' and Exercise 'Taming Sari', against the backdrop of fresh tensions in the South China Sea.
Malaysia’s move comes a few days after Vietnam sent its own ships to confront Chinese ships in disputed areas. Vietnam has also been pushing for a pact that will outlaw many of China’s ongoing activities in the South China Se -- like the building of artificial islands, blockades and offensive weaponry such as missile deployments; and the Air Defense Identification Zone, a conduct code China initiated back in 2013.
Still, Malaysia’s revolt against China may not last long, as its economy is already too integrated with China’s China is Malaysia’s largest export market, and that makes Kuala Lumpur dependent on Beijing for its growth.
Vietnam takes a stand in the South China Sea
Normally, Vietnam would have backed down. In July 2017 and March 2018, when China reportedly threatened military action if Vietnam did not stop oil exploration in contested areas of the South China Sea, Vietnam blinked and withdrew its vessels.
Last year, Vietnam scrapped a US$200 million oil and gas development project with Spanish energy giant Repsol situated within its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ) due to Chinese pressure. However, when a Chinese survey ship and coastguard vessels sailed last month to the contested oil-rich Vanguard Bank, which also lies well within Vietnam’s southeastern EEZ, Hanoi stood its ground.
Rather than negotiating through backchannels, as the two sides have done previously to defuse sea incidents, this time Hanoi went public. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged public, formal complaints to China’s relevant institutions and called for international support to its side.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang stated that China had “violated Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.” The ministry ordered China to immediately “withdraw all Chinese survey and escorting vessels from the Vietnamese waters.” It also announced it would continue its joint explorations with Russia near the contested feature through September.
The latest dispute started in May after Hanoi gave permission to a Japanese oil rig contracted to the Russian-Vietnamese venture, Rosneft Vietnam BV, to explore an oil bloc near Vanguard Bank, a submerged feature in the western part of the sea.
How Taiwan Stands Up to China
In January 2020, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen won reelection with a commanding 57 percent of the vote. The result was a setback for China’s Taiwan policy under Xi Jinping, and it demonstrated the impressive resilience of Taiwan’s democracy in the face of a relentless pressure campaign from Beijing. These elections illustrated a paradox: Taiwan’s economy is deeply entwined with the Chinese mainland’s, yet Taiwan has proved especially resistant to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence operations. The surprising reversals in the 2020 race suggest that the CCP still struggles to understand how best to influence public opinion in Taiwan.