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Chinese vessels retreat amid tensions

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Indonesian navy vessels sail across Natuna waters off Riau Islands province. ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

Chinese vessels retreat amid tensions

Around 30 Chinese fishing vessels have retreated to the border of Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the North Natuna Sea, Natuna regency, Riau Islands, amid simmering tensions over China’s controversial naval manoeuvres in the maritime region.

The vessels began retreating on the heels of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s visit to the regency on Wednesday.

“Around 30 foreign vessels are currently situated on the Natuna EEZ border. They remain there as of today,” Riau Islands acting governor Isdianto told the Jakarta Post alongside Joint Defence Area Command commander Rear Admiral Yudo Margono on Sunday.

Isdianto said the vessels, which were originally situated 209km from the Natuna regency capital of Ranai, had retreated to the edge of the EEZ.

Despite the foreign vessels’ apparent withdrawal from Natuna waters, Yudo said a military operation in the region would continue throughout the year, as evidenced by the beefed-up military presence that remained intact as of Sunday.

“Four jet fighters are still on standby at the Natuna Air Base,” he said.

However, when asked whether Jokowi’s visit to the region had directly prompted the vessels’ retreat, Yudo said the connection remained to be seen.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo insisted on Wednesday that Indonesia had sovereign rights over the natural resources in its EEZ in the North Natuna Sea and would allow foreign vessels to pass through peacefully.

“I am here to ensure the enforcement of our sovereign rights over the maritime natural resources in our EEZ,” Jokowi said as quoted in a press release issued by the State Palace.

Jokowi and his entourage were originally scheduled to inspect the waters off the Natuna Islands. However, the field inspection was cancelled as a result of strong currents and unpredictable weather.

Jokowi headed to the Natuna regent’s office where he handed over land certificates for residents.

“I am handing over these land certificates so everyone may know that Natuna is [part] of our homeland of Indonesia,” Jokowi said during his visit to the regent’s office.

THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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