Last January, the Indonesian Coast Guard intercepted the Xiang Yang Hong 03 operated by the Chinese Institute of Oceanography as it entered the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra with its automatic identification system having been deactivated twice during its travels.
Although the Chinese maintain innocence, saying the identification system on the Xiang Yang Hong, a research and survey vessel, was merely not functioning properly, suspicions increased considerably after a fisherman stumbled onto a Chinese underwater vehicle near Selayar Island, South Sulawesi that coincided with Xiang Yang Hong’s transit. Reportedly the device carried a trailing antenna and had no identification. Fishermen handed the device over to the police and the Indonesian Navy, which claimed it could be used to explore underwater sea routes to allow covert submarine activity.
It isn’t the first time China allegedly has surreptitiously slipped underwater mapping devices into Indonesian waters, and it has annoyed the government in Jakarta, which would like to maintain its strong economic ties with Beijing but takes the maritime violations seriously, including beginning to arm its own vessels in response. The incident also adds Indonesia to the list of littoral nations growing increasingly concerned over China’s insistence on its hegemony over the South China Sea. They have led to demonstrations by dozens of people in front of the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta, mostly from fisher’s associations demanding China back off the Indonesian exclusive economic zone, stop breaching Indonesia’s sovereign rights, and stop threatening Indonesia’s fishermen.