The government of Indonesia has decided to rename its part of the South China Sea, a move that appears calculated to assert sovereignty in the face of increasing pressure from China. The name of the world’s newest body of water, the “North Natuna Sea,” now features prominently on Indonesian charts, and it overlaps areas of China’s sweeping “nine-dash line” maritime claims.
The waters off Indonesia’s Natuna Islands hold reserves of natural gas and valuable fishery resources. Indonesian coast guard forces have skirmished with groups of Chinese fishing vessels and Chinese coast guard ships within the EEZ in recent years, and Jakarta has responded to the incursions by increasing its military presence in the Natuna chain.
Arif Havas Oegroseno, the deputy of maritime sovereignty at Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, told Reuters that the renaming reflected the language currently in use in the region, and was “in line with the usual practice.” Indonesian media report that the government will pursue official recognition of the new name with the International Hydrographic Organization.
China dismissed the news of a “North Natuna Sea.” In a regular briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that “certain countries’ so-called renaming is totally meaningless,” and called on Indonesia to “meet China halfway.”
The IHO already recognizes a “Natuna Sea,” which extends south from the Natuna and Anambas Islands to the Belitung Islands. The name is not widely used, and China has appealed to IHO to reincorporate the body of water into the bounds of the South China Sea.
Indonesia is not the only country along the margins of the South China Sea to defy Beijing’s claims in recent days. On Wednesday, the director of the Philippines Energy Resource Development Bureau, Ismael Ocampo, said that his ministry may lift a ban on oil and gas drilling at disputed Reed Bank as early as December.