Vietnam is seriously concerned about Indonesia sinking Vietnamese vessels for illegally fishing in its waters, Hanoi’s foreign ministry spokesman said August 20.
As I reported earlier this week, Indonesia sank 34 foreign vessels – including several Vietnamese ones – on Tuesday in conjunction with its independence day celebrations (See: “Indonesia Sinks 34 Foreign Ships in War on Illegal Fishing”). These mass public sinkings have become a prominent feature of the crackdown on illegal fishing launched under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who says the practice causes the country to suffer annual losses of over $20 billion (See: “Explaining Indonesia’s ‘Sink the Vessels’ Policy Under Jokowi”).
On Thursday, according to Tuoi Tre News, Le Hai Binh, the spokesperson for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Vietnam felt “deeply concerned” about the sinking of fishing boats belonging to Vietnamese fishermen who had violated Jakarta’s territorial waters.
Binh added that Vietnam had sent a diplomatic note to Indonesia Thursday recommending that Jakarta “[pay] attention to the strategic partnership of the two nations” in dealing with Vietnamese fishermen. The two countries upgraded their relationship to the level of a strategic partnership in June 2013 under Jokowi’s predecessor Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
This is not the first time that Vietnam has registered its dissatisfaction with Indonesia’s “sink the vessels” policy. Indeed, as I have noted previously, several Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, have been in discussions with Jakarta regarding the implications of the policy as well as the issue of illegal fishing more generally (See: “Is Indonesia Turning Away From ASEAN Under Jokowi?”).
In Vietnam’s case, the issue has been raised during several bilateral interactions since the fishery sector is an important one in the overall trade relationship. In November 2014, Vietnam’s ambassador to Indonesia, Nguyen Xuan Thuy, met with Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti to discuss the issue, following which he said that Hanoi would better educate its fishermen about fishery laws and regulations. This April, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told Indonesia’s visiting foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, that he hoped Jakarta would treat Vietnamese fishermen and fishing boats “with a spirit of traditional friendship and strategic partnership.”
As I have noted previously, while Indonesia has made some adjustments to its “sink the vessels” policy over time, it has thus far been unwilling to shelve the idea altogether, even amidst opposition by neighboring states. Jakarta insists that the policy is not only needed – given the scale of the problem, the failure of previous approaches, and the centrality of the maritime realm to Indonesia’s ambitions – but also within its legal rights.