Chinese Vessels Withdraw From Disputed Waters, Indonesia Says

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(Bloomberg) -- Chinese fishing vessels and coast guard ships accused of intruding into waters near the Natuna Islands withdrew on Thursday, a day after Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the area and asserted the country’s rights over the disputed waters.

An aerial reconnaissance by the Indonesian Air Force showed the Chinese ships left the Southeast Asian nation’s exclusive economic zone, military spokesman Sisriadi said in a text message. Widodo’s trip to the disputed area on Wednesday sent a strong message to China and prompted the withdrawal of the ships, he said.

Jokowi, as Widodo is popularly known, visited the Natuna Islands on Wednesday, saying he was there to enforce Indonesia’s sovereign rights over the area after Chinese fishing vessels and coast guard ships were spotted in recent weeks. The country had also sent warships and 120 fishing vessels to patrol the area, besides deploying four F-16 fighter jets to the islands.

While Indonesia claims the incursion of the fishing vessel was in violation of international laws, China said it’s operating legally. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said during a briefing on Wednesday both sides have been in communication using diplomatic channels.

While the Indonesian navy, coastguard and the air force will continue to monitor the Natuna Islands area, warships and fighter jets will return to their pre-deployment positions, Sisriadi said.

The latest conflict followed accusations by the U.S. and other coastal states in Southeast Asia that China was taking a more aggressive stance on its claims to more than 80% of the lucrative waters in the South China Sea. China has called on the U.S. to stop interfering in the region.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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