South China Sea: Indonesia’s Silence 

On August 28, 2023, China published the ‘Final’ or ‘Standard Map’ of the South China Sea, a maritime area of great importance due to its crucial trade routes. While they are not new claims, the unilateral release of the controversial new map is perceived as an effort by China to legitimise its unlawful and somewhat illegitimate sovereignty claims. ASEAN nations such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia, all of which share sovereignty over these waters, publicly rejected the map due to their own territorial claims. India has also strongly opposed China’s territorial markings. In 2016, the Arbitral Communicator Committee in The Hague ruled that China lacked a legal basis for its claims in the South China Sea. Consequently, China’s inflexible and defiant publication, which has severely undermined group cooperation has been described as a “big insult, a big slap in the face”1.


While China’s issues with Indonesia may not be as prominent as those with Vietnam and the Philippines, Indonesia is still a key stakeholder in The South China Sea2. Unlike some of its neighbours, Indonesia employed a less overt and confrontational response to the issue. Still, the publication of the new map ultimately poses a serious security and border challenge for Indonesia, as China’s vested interests encroach unlawfully on Indonesia’s sovereignty, specifically in the Natuna Sea. During the ASEAN summit, however, China pledged “$21.7 billion new Chinese investment in Indonesia to strengthen the countries’ economic and political ties”3. This was seen as a “smart tactical approach taken by Indonesia”4, aimed at preserving bilateral ties with China, while still upholding its firm longstanding objections. 

[1] ABC News, (2023). “What does Xi Jinping’s absence from the ASEAN and G20 summits mean?” (Video), September 6. Retrieved:

[2] Xie, Kawala. (2023), “Chinese Premier Li Qiang vows to expand ties with Indonesia despite South China Sea rows amid growing US rivalry”, South China Morning Post, September 8. Retrieved:

[3] Karmini, Niniek. (2023), “Indonesia says China has pledged $21B in new investment to strengthen ties”, The Associated Press, September 8. Retrieved:

[4] Darmawan, Aristyo. (2023), “The Fix: Explaining Indonesia’s silence in the North Natuna Sea”, Lowy Institute, September 6. Retrieved:


WeWork Noble House,
30th Floor Jl. Dr. Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung
Kav. E 4.2 No. 2 Jakarta 12950

Tel: (+62-21) 5012 7887

© Copyright 2023 CastleAsia – All Rights Reserved