China said on Monday it had lodged a “stern” protest with Indonesia after the Southeast Asian country’s navy seized a Chinese vessel it suspected of fishing illegally in its waters.
The dispute comes amid heightened tension over China’s reclamation activities in the South China Sea (Vietnam’s East Sea) and its claims on swathes of the key waterway, where several Southeast Asian nations have overlapping claims.
The Indonesian military said it detained the vessel, Gui Bei Yu, last Friday, after it entered Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone in the resource-rich Natuna Sea off the northwest coast of the island of Borneo.
“That ship is strongly suspected to have stolen fish in Indonesian territory,” said Rear Admiral A. Taufiq R, adding that the types of fish aboard matched those commonly found in the surrounding waters.
Jakarta is not a claimant in the disputes over the South China Sea (Vietnam’s East Sea), but it has objected to China’s inclusion of parts of the Indonesian-ruled Natuna Islands within a “nine-dash line” that Beijing marks on maps to show its claim on the waterway.
China has said it does not dispute Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna Islands.
The latest row follows a confrontation between the two countries in the same waters in March, when a Chinese coastguard vessel rammed a Chinese fishing vessel to release it after it had been seized by Indonesian authorities.
Last week’s seizure was intended as a “notice to the world” that Indonesia would take stern action against ships that violate its jurisdiction, the Indonesian military said in a statement on Sunday.
China has lodged “stern representations” with Indonesia in response, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing on Monday.
“China and Indonesia have a different point of view about the waters where the incident happened,” she said. “A Chinese fishing boat was carrying out normal production activities there.”