Chinese protests against Indonesia's oil exploration are not new. Previously, Indonesia has conducted offshore oil exploration in the Tuna Block, which is also located in the overlapping area between Indonesia's EEZ and China's nine-dash line. Beijing has taken a series of actions against Indonesia's oil exploration, including formal diplomatic notes or démarches, the summoning of ambassadors to demand clarification, the dispatching of the China Coast Guard to patrol around oil rigs, and the sending of a surveying ship to the area. These moves have raised tensions between China and Indonesian maritime law enforcement. The Indonesian Coast Guard (BAKAMLA) and the Indonesian navy have on many occasions tried to escort the Chinese survey ship out of Indonesian waters.
With the approval of this new offshore exploration project, the Indonesian government appears to have calculated the risks and anticipated some escalation of tensions with China. According to Dwi Soetjipto, the head of the SKK Migas, the Indonesian Navy are ready to protect the nation’s sovereign rights.
Indonesia has just appointed a new armed forces chief from the Navy - Admiral Yudo Margono. He has identified the South China Sea issue as one of his most important concerns, stating that securing Indonesia's sovereign rights in the North Natuna Sea is one of his priorities. To do so, Margono plans to host a special joint operation that will involve not only the Navy but also the Army to protect Indonesian activities in the North Natuna Sea, including gas exploitation.
This commitment is important and necessary for Indonesia to be able to reiterate its sovereign rights without fear of illegal intrusion by any country. As part of the strategy to protect the North Natuna Sea, Indonesia last year introduced Presidential Regulation No. 41/2022 which aims to boost governance in the contested maritime area. Under the regulation, Jakarta has set some priorities for the development of the region, including fisheries, tourism and increasing defense capacity and presence.