South China Sea
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A China coast guard ship seen during an Indonesian naval ship’s patrol of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone on January 11, 2020. Photo: Antara Foto via Reuters

China admits fishing in Indonesian-claimed waters in South China Sea, vows to resolve things in ‘friendly manner’

  • China’s Ambassador Xiao Qian says he’s confident Beijing and Jakarta can ‘properly manage the situation’
  • Indonesia’s North Natuna Sea overlaps slightly with China’s ‘nine-dash’ line which marks its expansive claims in the South China Sea

China admitted on Thursday that its fishermen had recently caught fish in disputed waters claimed by Indonesia as part of its exclusive economic zone and by the Chinese as traditional fishing grounds.

China’s Ambassador Xiao Qian told reporters after meeting with Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD that Chinese fishermen entered the waters on the southern edge of disputed South China Sea for a period of time last December to catch fish.

Suggesting there is no cause for alarm, Xiao said he is confident that the two governments can “properly manage the situation” and “properly solve the problem”.

“Even between friends, between good neighbours, there might be different views, there might be disputes, but it does not matter … We can talk about many things in a friendly manner,” he added.

Separately, Mahfud said the ambassador told him that Chinese authorities have been pressured by fishermen to continue to allow them to operate in the contested waters, which Indonesia views as illegal.

The minister said senior officials of the two countries will meet on February 4 and 5 as part of efforts to resolve the problem.

Their statements came amid heightened tension between Indonesia and China, after dozens of Chinese fishing vessels entered the area, under protection of China Coast Guard vessels, in late December.

Indonesia deploys fighter jets to patrol Natuna islands at centre of China spat

Indonesia has protested to China over the incident.

The area, which Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea, is located north of the Natuna Islands, a remote archipelago that China officially recognises as Indonesian territory.

In July 2017, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its EEZ as the North Natuna Sea.

It overlaps slightly with China’s “nine-dash” line that marks that country’s expansive claims in the South China Sea, where it also has maritime disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.