In the past few months, there has been increased cooperation between the China Coast Guard (CCG) and both the Indonesian Sea and Coast Guard (KPLP) and the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (BAKAMLA). In early December last year, during the “Vietnam Coast Guard and friends” meeting in Hanoi, the heads of the CCG and BAKAMLA met. Both parties reiterated commitments to increasing bilateral cooperation as part of the implementation of a memorandum of understanding between Indonesia and China to enhance maritime collaboration. In early February this year, as a follow-up, the Chinese ambassador to Jakarta visited the headquarters of BAKAMLA, a dedicated maritime patrol and rescue agency reporting to the president, to discuss these commitments further.
These exchanges between the two services have raised questions among Indonesian and regional security analysts who have expressed surprise at this budding cooperation, given the ongoing dispute between the two countries over their respective activities in the North Natuna Sea, the southernmost section of the South China Sea. In recent years, Indonesian maritime authorities have clashed with the CCG over China’s territorial claims which overlap with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including a mining area. As a consequence, in January, Indonesia sent a warship to the area to monitor the activities of a CCG vessel. The quarrel has only escalated with Indonesia deciding to expand its offshore energy exploration, dismissing Beijing’s nine-dash line reach as unlawful. Indonesia is not among the six parties officially engaged in the South China Sea maritime dispute, which include Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan.
Is the growing relationship between the coast guards of Indonesia and China a rational choice for Jakarta?
Pursuing cooperation is the right path for Indonesia for three key reasons: