Jakarta has stake in resolving Spratlys dispute, says Alatas

FOREIGN Minister Ali Alatas said yesterday that Jakarta had a stake in resolving the Spratlys dispute given that any conflict in the area could destabilise the region and affect trade.

“It is a security consideration for us although we are not one of the claimants,” Mr Alatas told The Straits Times after opening an annual meeting on the South China Sea here.

“We are in the immediate neighbourhood of the disputed area and any conflict could affect us.”

He said that any conflagration between the claimant states could threaten Indonesian national security and undermine regional stability by damaging trade and sea lanes of communication.

He said: “We have the same interest as the claimant states to preserve peace and security in Asia.”

Observers believe that Jakarta has been pressing for a diplomatic resolution to the problem given their interest, coupled with the fact that any conflict could “spill over” to its Natuna Islands, which lie off north-east Kalimantan and south of the Spratlys. The islands are the site of a huge natural-gas project being developed by Indonesian and American companies.

While Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natunas is not disputed, there is a “grey area” of 200 nautical miles surrounding China’s claims over the islands, which overlaps with some of the waters off the Natunas.

Mr Alatas, however, denied any suggestion yesterday that Jakarta would play an “active” role in bringing an end to the Spratlys conflict and side with any claimant state in pressing their demands.

“Indonesia is in no way involved in the dispute but it wants to reach a peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation,” he said.

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