Indonesia rejects ‘military solution’ to sea disputes

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
The South China Sea issue is a 'litmus test' for ASEAN, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa tells Rappler's Maria Ressa

'LITMUS TEST.' Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa rejects a 'military solution' to the South China Sea issue. Screen grab from Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Indonesia rejected a “military solution” to South China Sea disputes incidentally as recent tensions between China and Vietnam have triggered aggression, including riots and the use of a water cannon.

In an interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa also said the historic maritime deal between the Philippines and Indonesia, signed on Friday, May 23, provides a good example. (READ: Philippines, Indonesia seal historic maritime deal)

“We have to first of all recognize that there is no military solution to this issue. A military solution, whether use of force, threat of force, can only bring about a temporary solution or temporary gains to whoever feels that they have made gains,” Natalegawa said in an interview Thursday, May 22, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

“Because security is common goods,” he added. “It must be enjoyed by all. It cannot be at the expense of the other.” (Watch the full interview below)

Natalegawa explained: “That is why we have to promote peaceful settlement of disputes. It could be diplomacy, it could be negotiations, it could be legal processes. Anything as long as it is not the use of force. And I think our region must recognize that we’ve all been beneficiaries to the peace that we have long enjoyed.”

His statement came in the face of renewed tensions between China and Vietnam, after the rising superpower deployed an oil rig in the disputed South China Sea. (READ: Vietnam mulls ‘legal actions’ against China)

Vietnam said the Chinese ships protecting the deep-water drilling rig had used a water cannon to attack Vietnamese patrol vessels and repeatedly rammed them, injuring 6 people.

China, on the other hand, blamed Vietnam for encouraging the country’s worst anti-Beijing riots in decades, in which one Chinese worker was killed.

‘Very strong message’

The maritime boundary treaty signed on Friday provides – in the words of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono – a “model” in border disputes.

Referring to the treaty that was 20 years in the making, Natalegawa said, “This is a very strong message to the rest of the region that it is not impossible to find a resolution to any overlapping territorial claims.”

He stressed the need for a “more positive momentum” in the region.

HISTORIC DEAL. Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa (left) and Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario (right) finish signing a historic maritime deal between their countries. Behind them, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III witness the signing. Photo by Rey Baniquet/PCOO/Malacañang Photo Bureau

“It’s not a given that we are always in a state of a vicious cycle of tensions and mistrust. And Indonesia and the Philippines, working hand in hand, I think, can be part of that game-changing, momentum-building situation,” the Indonesian foreign minister said.

On the ties between ASEAN and China, Natalegawa said “we would like to develop a new type of international relations, where countries can unite not because of fear of another country.” 

“We don’t need a country to threaten, to bring us together…. When ASEAN comes together and unifies, it’s not meant to be inimical to anyone. So China is a very strong, important partner to ASEAN, but it must actually deliver on the commitments,” he said.

‘Litmus test’ for ASEAN

One of these commitments, he noted, is the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) that the Philippines, Indonesia, and China, among others, signed in 2002.

The non-binding DOC states: “The parties concerned undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Natalegawa aid, “It’s a crossroads of a sort we are now facing, but all of us must contribute to overcoming those challenges and opportunities.”

The South China Sea issue, he said, is “a litmus test for ASEAN.” –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email