Natuna Islands (from PxHere)

By: Mayora Bunga Swastika
Research Staff at Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center (PYC).

Natuna is one of the regions in Indonesia which has 264,198.37 square kilometers of land and sea. Natuna has natural resources and various marine commodities that can be great potential to be developed. The potential of Natuna marine fish resource is 504,212.85 tons per year in 2011. The fishing locations are 4 nautical miles outside in Natuna Sea.

Besides, Natuna Sea also has energy potential on it. Contractors of Cooperation Medco E&P Natuna found commercial gas to be developed in the South Natuna Sea Block B Working Area. In addition, the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (ESDM) said that the gas potential in East Natuna is twice more than the Masela Block Maluku. These findings indicate that Natuna has a promising potential gas resource.

Threat and Energy Security in Natuna Sea

Natuna is located in the southern part of South China Sea. It makes Natuna inseparable from the threat of sovereignty. China has a claim to northern Natuna waters. Natuna Sea has many potential resources that make many countries claims to the area. Defense Minister of Indonesia, Prabowo Subianto, said that there are threats in the North Natuna Sea. China made historical claims that made it free to fishing in the South China Sea, including the North Natuna Sea. This is a threat to Indonesian territory.

Threat to Indonesian sovereignty could affect energy security for Indonesia. The terms of energy security for Indonesia includes four aspects: Availability (the availability of energy resources); Accessibility (the ability to access energy sources, energy infrastructure, including geographic and geopolitical challenges); Affordability (the ability to financing investment, making production, and distributing); Acceptability (use of energy must adjust to carry the environment and acceptable socially and culturally). The threat of sovereignty in Natuna, which has a large energy source, Accessibility in energy security can be a challenge for Indonesia.

Defense Ministerial Decree KEP/104/M/I/2020 shows that violation in the border is the actual threat to Indonesia sovereignty. Therefore, Indonesia made a policy to deal with threats to Indonesia sovereignty, including to the Natuna Sea. This is aimed to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity in Indonesia. It is also protect the entire nation from all forms of threats.

Indonesia Defense Policy in Natuna

Energy security has a connection with foreign policy, including defense policy. According to George Bush Jr’s statement that “energy security should be a priority of our foreign policy and govern key elements of domestic politics”. Therefore, Indonesia foreign policy about energy needs to be seen. This can show the commitment of the government to maintain energy security in Indonesia.

Based on the Defense Ministerial Decree in 2020, Indonesia defense policy is called Sistem Pertahanan Keamanan Rakyat Semesta (Sishankamrata). This concept focused on the strength of the soldiers, as the center of defense, and encourages the empowerment of civil, as supporting figures for Indonesia defense. Furthermore, Indonesia defense policy strategy deals with three main areas: land, sea, and air. For the foreign aspect, Indonesia maintains good relations with other countries to support Indonesia defense policy.

Regarding Indonesia defense policy to overcome threats in Natuna, Indonesia had implemented both domestic and foreign policy. In 2015-2019, the Ministry of Defense built defense facilities and infrastructure in Natuna Island. One of them is widened the runway of the R. Sajad Airport. This widening is to accommodate two aircraft at once. For the Indonesian Navy, the Ministry of Defense built the dock of Penagi in Natuna Island. This dock is to accommodate the navy in Natuna Island. For the Indonesian Army, the Minister also plans to build a Mako and Raider Battalion.

Indonesia is also strengthening the domestic defense industry, such as Pindad, Dahana, Dirgantara Indonesia, and PT PAL. These industries are the main producers of defense equipment in domestic. Regarding Sishankamrata, Universitas Pertahanan opened a bachelor’s program with four new faculties: the Faculty of Military Medicine, the Faculty of Military Pharmacy, the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and the Faculty of Military Engineering. By opening these faculties, Indonesia can have experts in the defense not only from the TNI, but also from non-military. It is the concept of Sishankamrata.

In foreign policy, Indonesia collaborates on maritime security with other countries. Besides supporting ASEAN to implement Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, Indonesia is also cooperating with countries outside the region. It is to promote security in the South China Sea. While the tensions between the United States and China escalated, Minister of Defense of Indonesia, Prabowo Subianto, visited the Minister of Defense of the United States, Mark T. Esper, on October 15-16, 2020. They were discussed about bilateral defense and maritime security. Prabowo also held a meeting with the Minister of Defense of China, Wei Fenghe, to discuss the issues of the South China Sea. The two Ministers held discussions on the possibility of joint military drills and personnel training between the two countries. These shows that Indonesia maintains good relations and cooperates with countries that involved in dispute in the South China Sea, but Indonesia does not take sides.

Challenges for Indonesia

The issue in Natuna and the South China Sea has the challenges for Indonesia. This issue involves more than one issue. Not only issue about sovereignty, but also issue about geopolitical, maritime security, and energy security. With the discovery of gas potential in Natuna Sea, Indonesia will fulfill its energy needs if Indonesia able to manage this potential. Therefore, Indonesia should continue to manage security in Natuna and the South China Sea from threats.

The challenges are not only from domestic, but also from the outside. In the domestic, Indonesia needs to improve the ability to manage the natural potential in Natuna. Indonesia also needs to continue to build a defense force in Natuna. It is to overcome all forms of threats that may occur in the South China Sea. In addition, with the concept of Indonesia foreign policy Bebas-Aktif, Indonesia can cooperate with all countries to maintain security in the South China Sea without taking sides the disputing countries.

As seen from the action in Natuna, Indonesia did not pay much attention to Natuna. Besides the lack of natural resources exploration in Natuna, the government also does not have a specific policy to manage Natuna. These include the lack of a defense policy to protect Natuna. It would be better if Indonesia have a specific policy to manage Natuna, because Natuna is “gold resource” for Indonesia. It is starting from exploring the potential of energy, improving defense facilities and infrastructure, recruiting experts, and maintaining the balance of nature in Natuna. If Indonesia is able to take the opportunity to manage Natuna, Indonesia can obtain the natural resources in its region. Also, Indonesia can have a good reputation among countries.

Disclaimer: This opinion piece is the author(s) own and does not necessarily represent opinions of the Purnomo Yusgiantoro Center (PYC).

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