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Indonesian navy makes show of force in South China Sea

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s navy has conducted a four-day exercise in the South China Sea, it said Friday, in what appears to be a major show of force against Chinese claims to the waters.

Twenty-four warships participated in the exercise that began Tuesday, including two missile destroyers and four escort vessels. Land-based training was also incorporated.

A portion of the exercise was staged near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. The borders of the exclusive economic zone around Natuna overlap with the “nine-dash line” map claimed by China.

“Even with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the military’s responsiveness has not been hurt,” Rear Adm. Ahmadi Heri Purwono said.

Chinese fishing vessels accompanied by Chinese-flagged government ships have repeatedly been found in the area, raising the alarm on the Indonesian side.

The exercise aimed to build up strategic capabilities with an eye toward defending Natuna.

In a May letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Indonesia said it is “not bound” by the Chinese nine-dash-line claim, which “lacks international legal basis.” Follow-up letters in June saw Jakarta flatly reject an offer to negotiate what Beijing called “overlapping claims.”

Indonesia is not a claimant in the South China Sea dispute — which involves China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam — but when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issues a statement rejecting China’s maritime claims in the contested waters, he specifically mentioned Natuna as being outside China’s jurisdiction.

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