It is not just tradition, closeness and kinship that make Indonesia the first choice of Philippine presidents when they undertake their first state visits after assuming power. Equally important is the shared experience of hurt, great and small.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s state visit to Indonesia would have been more productive and promising for the future had the Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) been briefed enough to brief the President on Indonesia’s similar issues with the China’s baffling assertion of historical rights (courtesy of its Nine-Dash Fantasy) in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Natuna Islands.
Like us, Indonesia also has a history of wrangling with Beijing over its rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
The one-on-one talks between Presidents Widodo and Marcos would have been geared towards the current issues of the moment for the two countries, and further discuss ways in which the two countries could join Vietnam and Malaysia in a concerted effort to protect their EEZs and galvanize support for their cause within the international community.
According to published reports of the state visit, the discussion barely touched on the mutuality of interests in the dispute over the South China Sea and Indonesia’s offshore energy development projects.
Indonesia is an invaluable discussion partner for the Philippines due to its discoveries of oil and gas deposits in its EEZ and territorial waters.
While the Philippines has so far found nothing but Chinese bullying in our Western Philippine Sea EEZ, Indonesia is actively exploring and developing its energy resources in partnership with major international energy companies in its Natuna Islands EEZ. Jakarta has announced its intention to transform the region into a special economic zone.
China badgers with a nine-dash line
In its September 2 issue, the Asia Times published a report on Indonesia’s offshore oil and gas development program in partnership with Western energy companies. John Mcbeth’s report, “China spiking Indonesia’s offshore oil and gas risk”, tells the story between Indonesia and China on the issue of rights.
I quote the report at length because of its natural interest to the Philippine government and the Filipino public.
“After unilaterally expanding its territorial claims in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone, China has yet to respond to British oil company Harbor Energy PLC’s plans to pipe newly discovered natural gas from its Tuna block through the maritime border to Vietnam’s offshore network.
“Harbour discovered the Tuna field in 2014 and was in the process of drilling two appraisal wells in July 2021 when a Chinese Coast Guard vessel approached the semi-submersible platform leased by the company and took it said to cease operations.
“That and a subsequent message from the Chinese Foreign Ministry was the first time Jakarta realized that Beijing intended to enforce its vague nine-dash line of claimed territorial sovereignty – similarly it did. has already done with Vietnam and the Philippines — in Indonesian waters.
“Over the next seven weeks, the Chinese research vessel Haiyang Dizhi 10 and two coastguards carried out an extensive survey of the seabed around the platform in a clear attempt to intimidate – and although they were followed by a fleet of Indonesian Navy corvettes with orders not to interfere.
“The Indonesian government made no official protest but instead announced its intention to transform the Natuna North Sea into a special economic zone with tax breaks to attract foreign investment and the construction of new military installations on the main island. by Natuna Bezar.
“Harbour and Russian state-owned JSC Zarubezhneft have an equal 50% stake in the Tuna block, which contains 100 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, or 55% gas and 45% liquids, according to the latest company reports.
“Harbour says it is on track to submit a development plan later this year with a final investment decision expected by the end of 2023. But none of its reports specifically mentioned the geopolitical risks surrounding the project.
“In 2017, Harbor signed a memorandum of understanding with PetroVietnam to deliver the gas 70 kilometers to the existing 325 kilometer long Nam Con Song pipeline network off the southeast coast of Vietnam.
“Zarubezneft has a 33% stake in the network, which it bought last year from fellow company Rosneft. When it opened in 2014, the $1.3 billion pipeline was designed to transport imported gas neighboring countries.
“Analysts believe Russia’s involvement in the project could give China pause given the growing relationship between Moscow and Beijing in the wake of the war in Ukraine and the movement of carrier battle groups from the US 7th Fleet in the South China Sea.
“Apart from an isolated incident about a month ago when Indonesian and Chinese warships exchanged petulant radio messages, there have been few recent incidents around Tuna in the far north of the EEZ. Indonesian.
“Last November, Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to reassure Southeast Asian leaders at a special summit in Beijing that China had no intention of bullying its smaller neighbors. despite its role in stoking tensions in the region.
“China was, is and always will be the good neighbor, good friend and good partner of ASEAN,” Xi said. “China will never seek hegemony, much less bully small countries.”
“Xi’s remarks came just a week after Chinese Coast Guard vessels intercepted and fired high-pressure water cannons at boats carrying supplies to Philippine military outposts in the northeastern part of the Philippines. Disputed Spratly Islands.
“Harbour already has a 28.67% operating interest in Natuna Sea Block A, with seven producing fields located approximately 300 kilometers southwest of Tuna which have supplied gas to Singapore via the West Natuna transmission system of 640 kilometers since 2001.
“Meanwhile, with most of the major oil majors either gone or heading for exit, Harbor and Spanish oil company Repsol are leading the search for what experts say is Indonesia’s biggest offshore gas find in two years. decades…”
The Hague Arbitration
The Philippines’ exploration and development of possible energy resources in its EEZ of the Western Philippine Sea has been visibly retarded by former President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of bowing down to Beijing and just watching China build aggressively structures and dominate fishing in the South China Sea. . There has been a persistent effort by Beijing to rebuff any attempt by Manila to initiate and implement projects in the latter’s EEZ. It has been deleterious that there is a segment of the Filipino media that champions the Chinese agenda and seeks to stifle even publicity about the 2016 Hague arbitration award that favored the Filipino cause and dismissed China’s claim. historic rights in disputed waters.
Indonesia and Vietnam generally did better than the Philippines in fending off Chinese tactics. Indonesia even went so far as to blow up Chinese fishing vessels attempting to poach in the waters around the Natuna Islands. Vietnam and China clashed over the Paracel Islands in 1974.
To the credit of the Philippines, we have taken the dispute to court for arbitration in The Hague.
In January 2013, the Philippines initiated arbitration proceedings against China under Unclos over a range of issues, including the latter’s historical rights claims inside the nine-dash line. A tribunal of arbitrators constituted under Annex VII of Unclos appointed the Permanent Court of Arbitration as the registry of the proceedings.
On July 12, 2016, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines on most of its findings. While it “would not rule on any question of sovereignty over land territory or delimit any maritime boundary between the Parties”, it concluded that China had not historically exercised exclusive control over the waters inside the nine-dash line and had “no legal right”. base” to claim “historic rights” to the resources there. It also concluded that China’s historical rights claims to maritime areas (as opposed to land masses and territorial waters) within the nine-dash line would have no lawful effect beyond that to what she is entitled to under Unclos. Predictably, China rejected the decision, calling it “ill-founded”.
The Chinese nine-dash mantra thus turned out to be an empty bag. It can’t hold. Only former President Duterte was deceived.