China admits fishing in Indonesian-claimed waters

JAKARTA, Indonesia – China admitted Thursday, January 16 that its fishermen had recently caught fish in disputed waters claimed by Indonesia as part of its exclusive economic zone and by the Chinese as traditional fishing grounds.

China's Ambassador Xiao Qian told reporters after meeting with Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD that Chinese fishermen entered the waters on the southern edge of disputed South China Sea for a period of time last December to catch fish.

Suggesting there is no cause for alarm, Xiao said he is confident that the two governments can "properly manage the situation" and "properly solve the problem."

"Even between friends, between good neighbors, there might be different views, there might be disputes, but it doesn't matter....We can talk about many things in a friendly manner," he added.

Separately, Mahfud said the ambassador told him that Chinese authorities have been pressured by fishermen to continue to allow them to operate in the contested waters, which Indonesia views as illegal.

The minister said senior officials of the two countries will meet on February 4 and 5 as part of efforts to resolve the problem.

Their statements came amid heightened tension between Indonesia and China after dozens of Chinese fishing vessels entered the area, under protection of China Coast Guard vessels, in late December.

The area, which Indonesia calls the North Natuna Sea, is located north of the Natuna Islands, a remote archipelago that China officially recognizes as Indonesian territory.

In July 2017, Indonesia renamed the northern reaches of its EEZ as the North Natuna Sea.

It overlaps slightly with China's "nine-dash" line that marks that country's expansive claims in the South China Sea, where it also has maritime disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. –