Indonesia is planning to build several military bases in the Natuna Islands as the dispute in the South China Sea escalates. The decision comes on the heels of the Prague tribunal’s findings this week.
Indonesia has said it made the decision based on the growing tensions over territorial disputes between China and several other Southeast Asian countries.
Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu made the announcement that Indonesia will build the military bases in the Natuna Islands to safeguard the country’s sovereignty and to help enforce the rule of law. He commented on the decision by saying: “We have been planning the construction since September 2015, starting with a policy issued by the Defense Minister and then its implementation by the commander of the Indonesian National Defense Forces.”
President Joko Widodo has given his approval to the safeguarding of the region, as well as signing his endorsement to protect what is rightfully theirs.
One of the first order of businesses associated with agreement is to extend the runway at Ranal Air Base.
The Natuna Islands is strategically located adjacent to Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia, and are of great importance in the territorial dispute in the South China Sea.
While Indonesia has no direct territorial dispute with China, its neighbors the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam have ongoing conflicts with the communist nation.
The dispute with China and the Philippines is expected to create increased tensions as the ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague is expected this week.
The Philippines and Natuna Islands
The Philippines brought the dispute to arbitration in 2013. China denounced the Philippines of having made “a unilateral decision” and insists the two countries should settle their difference in bilateral talks.
Vietnam and Malaysia have been highly disturbed by the land reclamation and island construction China has produced over the past several years. Both countries have protested against illegal fishing and occupation of the South China Sea.
The Natuna Islands are of significance to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and North Korea as it is a major shipping point for the mainland Asian countries.
Indonesia’s decision to build military bases on Natuna Islands coincides with the country’s plan to develop defense submarines in the coming year – President Widodo said that Jakarta will transform itself into a global maritime axis power.