President Joko Widodo vowed on Tuesday to develop all of Indonesia’s frontier areas, including the Natuna Islands close to where it is embroiled in a dispute with China.
“We will develop areas, such as Entikong, Natuna and Atambua, so that the world sees Indonesia as a great nation that pays attention on every inch of its land,” Widodo said in his annual Independence Day speech in Jakarta. His speech also focused on deregulation, social inequality and poverty eradication, as well as the threat of terrorism.
Indonesia’s navy has been involved in several altercations with Chinese fishing boats and coast guard vessels off the gas-rich Natuna Islands in recent months. Beijing claims the waters around the islands as part of its traditional fishing grounds. While Indonesia is not a claimant in the broader disputes China has with several other nations over its South China Sea claims, Widodo has sought to underscore Indonesian sovereignty in the area. On Wednesday the navy will sink 71 impounded foreign vessels there in a show of force.
Widodo, commonly known as Jokowi, said in his speech on Tuesday that Indonesia was committed to the peaceful resolution of international conflicts, including in the South China Sea. “Indonesia has to be actively involved in promoting the resolution on South China Sea spat through negotiation and peaceful measures,” he said.
China’s claims to more than 80 percent of the South China Sea were dented in July by an international tribunal that ruled it had no historic rights to the resources within the waters and that its actions there were aggravating tensions. China has rejected the ruling.
Jokowi has said he wants to transform Indonesia, a string of more than 17,000 islands that would stretch almost from New York to London, into a maritime power and has in the past laid out a plan to develop the fishing industry, improve port infrastructure and bolster sea defenses.
“In the year of development acceleration, the government is focusing on three breakthrough measures to eradicate poverty, unemployment and social inequality,” he said in his speech. “Those three measures are: One, expediting infrastructure development. Second, preparing productive capacity and human resources. Three, deregulation and debureaucratization.”