Indonesia on Monday protested the Chinese coast guard's rescue of a ship it says was fishing illegally in Indonesian waters, and now top officials are threatening to file a suit in international court.
An Indonesian fisheries ministry patrol ship intercepted the Chinese vessel Saturday within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone, which overlaps with the southernmost reaches of the South China Sea, according to Indonesia. Eight crewmen were detained.
The fishing vessel Kway Fey was being towed when a Chinese coast guard vessel collided with it, allowing its escape.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after meeting with a senior Chinese diplomat that the government wants Beijing to explain its actions. Marsudi said China's coast guard "violated our sovereignty" and he called on China to respect international law.
Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, rejected Indonesia's territorial claims, saying the Chinese fishing vessel hadn't entered Indonesian waters.
"The incident happened at the traditional Chinese fishing ground," said China's deputy ambassador to Indonesia, who told VOA he has called on Indonesia's Maritime and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti to release all eight of the detained fishermen.
Enforcement efforts ‘intervened’
"Traditional fishing ground is not recognized by any international treaty, so there is no international treaty that recognizes or acknowledges the claim by the government of China as traditional fishing ground," Pudjiastuti told VOA.
"The ministry and our task force [think] our efforts to enforce the law are being intervened," she said, adding that the detained fishermen will undergo due processing in accordance with Indonesian law. "The Chinese government should have the wisdom not to interfere with law enforcement in Indonesia."
If the Chinese insist on their claims of maritime territoriality, she warned, Indonesia will take the issue to international court.
China's expansive claims to most of the South China Sea have raised tensions with several Southeast Asian countries, especially as China reclaims land on reefs and builds infrastructure in disputed areas. While Indonesia has not been involved in many of the territorial disputes, officials are concerned an increasingly assertive China might enlarge its claims to include Indonesia's Natuna Islands, where Indonesia's military chief says he is strengthening forces.
Local media reported a similar incident in 2013 when a Chinese patrol vessel snatched back a detained Chinese ship from Indonesian control.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Indonesia Service. Portions of this report are from AP.