Indonesian Pitch for Disputed Seas


Indonesia is upping the diplomatic ante: by putting the Code of Conduct for dispute resolution in the South China Seas back on the agenda at the United Nations in New York, the country’s leaders have raised the pressure on their regional neighbors while hoping to head off any further embarrassment at the next meeting of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

ASEAN foreign ministers failed to reach consensus at a meeting in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh in June about the appropriate way to peacefully resolve disputes between its members over the Spratly and Paracel islands, amid a round of gunboat diplomacy.

The new documents relating to the Code of Conduct are being passed around at the General Assembly in New York by Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono urged all parties to the dispute to get on with earnest negotiations and find a legally binding code.

What suggested changes and diplomatic measures it contains remain a closely guarded secret. Nevertheless, Jakarta’s push is an indication that regional countries are increasingly fed up  –  particularly with China, the Philippines and Vietnam – in regards to their handling of the code.

Beijing has refused international arbitration and insists that any conflict on the seas should be settled on a bilateral basis, rather than through a multilateral mechanism as favored by the ASEAN states who are contesting the waters.

The June impasse at ASEAN was the first time in the trading bloc’s history that it failed to issue an end-of-summit communiqué. Cambodia, who hosted the meeting, was pilloried for putting the interests of China, which claims nearly all of the islands and surrounding waters, ahead of those of the 10 members.

Another meeting of leaders is scheduled for mid-November, with U.S. President Barack Obama expected to attend along with leaders from China, Europe and other regional powers – and Phnom Penh, which is also bidding for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, can ill-afford a repeat.

Jakarta has taken the initiative on this issue in recent months. If it produces some progress on a dispute that Yudhoyono noted had festered for much of the past century, ahead of the ASEAN leaders’ meeting, then that in itself would be a kind of victory.

An initial agreement to write up a code was agreed to by China and ASEAN a decade ago.

Also known as the West Philippine Sea and the East Sea in Vietnam, the area is rich in natural resources while more than half the world’s trade is ferried through the sea lanes separating Vietnam and The Philippines. Parts of the islands are also claimed by Malaysia and Brunei.

Be Way
October 6, 2012 at 19:16

Except for Vietnam (and maybe Philippines now), none of the ASEAN countries (incl Indonesia) has another dispute nor conflict with China.   In fact for centuries until now, China has been a good neighbor and trade partner with the majority of ASEAN countries.  So all these wild talks or imaginations by CIA propaganda that the alliance between U.S and ASEAN will serve as bulwark against China are pure fabrication.    On Vietnam, it has to decide seriously whether it want to continue with its belligerent attitude against China or it desire for a peaceful co-existence with China.  

talking points
October 4, 2012 at 11:48

should be:  If Phillipines and Vietnam do not drill, the SCS would be as calm as a quiet late.

February 16, 2014 at 00:32

The SCS or the West Philippine Sea will only be an area of peace just like 15 years ago if China will back out from its ridiculous claim and invasion.It’s refusal to participate in the ICJ arbitration suggest it cannot validate nor present a credible facts and it knows also that they will lose the case.

talking points
October 4, 2012 at 11:46

a COC would be a welcoming document for China. simply because even though you guys talks about China bulling, it is actually Phillipines and Vietnam breaking the status quo. China is a status quo power.
If Japan didn't bully the Chinese fisherman and arrested him, and didn't "buy" diaoyu island, China is content at status quo. If Phillipines and Vietnam does drill, the SCS would be as calm as a quiet late.

mary pham
October 1, 2012 at 17:42

At the moment, it looks like Indonesia and Thailand are co-leading the COC effort and is a smart move ( original founders, 1/2 ASEAN population, appearance of political neutrality… ). While the details are not known, the COC certainly will not address territory / water rights, but hopefully binds all claimants to minimal international standards of behavior. China should take this " save-face " opportunity and slow down its aggressive actions that so far, has won no support nor friend.

Leonard R.
September 30, 2012 at 10:09

ASEAN has too many conflicts of interest to be of any help. Indonesia could be the one nation to save ASEAN though. It has both anti-Chinese and anti-western traditions. Could China buy it off? It would try. But if history is any guide, it probably would not succeed.
Singapore is no honest broker. The Chinese business and governing classes are full of shills for China. 

Tom Tran
September 30, 2012 at 09:51

I would be very surprised if COC is passed, if ever. Fundamental difference plus extreme nationalism in all countries involved, notably China and Vietnam, could not go anywhere. Settling the dispute in a way that giving out a hint of giving up, surrendering territory like the border demarcation a few years ago is an utter disaster for the VCP at the moment, when it is blamed for a host of domestic problems as well as the general population feeling so fed up with its authoritarian regime. For smaller countries like Vietnam or the Phillippines, keeping the status quo is already a success.

mary pham
September 29, 2012 at 19:50

No! Jakarta's push at the UN assembly for the review of legally binding COC can not be attributed to the " regional countries increasingly fed up with… China, the Philippines and Vietnam – in regards to their handling of the code ". Instead, it is Indonesia's diplomatic slap of Chinese hand before China can futher impose its lawless challenge to existing international orders and civilized neighborly relations. In this case, the Philippines and Vietnam are only geographically, absorbing  the first wave of Chinese attack for total control of the South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia will be next before Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore.
. Indonesia recognizes Chinese inexpensive purchase of current ASEAN leadership ( Cambodia ) and perhaps subsequent rotations to come ( Laos, Burma… )… rendering ASEAN handicapped to address China's ambition.
. Indonesia pokes holes at Chinese insistence for bi-lateral negotiations where they will divide and conquer their smaller neighbors with solutions impossible to implement, due to overlapping claims of several interested states. No one trust China to be the honest broker when their ownership claim is the most legally, baseless and their past violations have been the only  physical violences of SCS.
. Indonesia highlights to the world that China is to blame for the recent escalated tension in what used to be peacefully shared ocean: the Philippines and Vietnam have not increased their militarization of these disputed waters, have not sent their war ships into other country's EEZ's, have not escorded their 10,000 fishing boats with armed navy into non-disputed areas, have not solicited oil/gas bids inside neighbor's EEZ's, have not used racist propaganda machineries to incite their population for hatred of neighbors and distorted history/facts… 
. Indonesia gives international communities valuable time and opportunities to help achieve peaceful solution before China will force all of its reluctant SCS neighbors into a violent conflicts with no winner.

September 29, 2012 at 12:00

Hope ASEAN as a whole can come out this year a full-proof and a legally binding code without getting an influence from China but I doubt the big neighbor will abide by it…hope it will.

September 29, 2012 at 06:18

Hope Indonesia succeeds. 

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