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Jun 08, 2021 / 19:47

Vietnam, Indonesia navies discuss maritime boundaries

Vietnam and Indonesia have expressed a desire to prevent further maritime spats.

High-ranking officers of Vietnam and Indonesia navies have discussed measures to strengthen the cooperation as well as maritime boundaries between the two littoral countries.

Rear Admiral Tran Thanh Nghiem at the phone talk with his Indonesian counterpart on June 7. Photo: Quan Doi Nhan Dan  

In the phone talk held on June 7, Rear Admiral Tran Thanh Nghiem, commander of the Vietnam People’s Navy, and Indonesian Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Yudo Margono said they will continue making efforts to maintain the peaceful and stable maritime boundaries and facilitate the fishing without violating the waters of each country.

The commanders agreed to speed up the completion of the Joint Training Standard Procedure in addressing common maritime security challenges.

Vietnam and Indonesia reached an agreement on continental shelf delimitation in 2003. In 2010, the two defense forces signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on enhancing cooperation between defense officers and related activities.

But the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) between the two states in the North Natuna Sea remains contested.

So far, both countries have tried to manage the dispute agreeably. Top Vietnamese and Indonesian defense officials have pledged to treat fishers humanely and not resort to the threat or use of force.

The two Southeast Asian neighbors have expressed a desire to expedite the negotiation process while discussing a provisional guideline to prevent further maritime spats.

There is also political will from both sides to end the current state of uncertainty. Since 2010, Vietnam and Indonesia have engaged in 12 rounds of talks on EEZ delimitation. The latest one took place in 2019, according to Phan Xuan Dung, a graduate student and research assistant at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and a member of the US–Vietnam Next-Generation Leaders Initiative at the Pacific Forum.

Both countries should establish provisional zones in the overlapping areas for joint fisheries exploitation. This is a common practice among states with unresolved maritime boundaries. A temporary measure such as this allows both parties to address fishery issues cooperatively while bypassing the bilateral dispute itself. A Vietnam–Indonesia fishery agreement should include provisions on maritime conservation as well as a joint jurisdiction arrangement, noted Xuan Dung.

In addition, the two countries should jointly conduct public information campaigns to raise awareness among Vietnamese fishing communities. Many Vietnamese fishers who engaged in IUU fishing have limited knowledge of neighboring coastal states’ maritime boundaries and maritime laws. Workshops should be held in the Vietnamese provinces of Khanh Hoa, Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Binh Thuan, where having many fishing vessels apprehended by Indonesia in recent years.

Finally, Vietnam and Indonesia should step up coast guard cooperation. In 2017, the two countries signed a letter of intent to enhance coast guard cooperation to ensure maritime security and safety in areas around the continental shelf boundary. Both sides should conduct frequent exchanges, as well as joint training exercises focusing on search and rescue, combating IUU fishing and countering piracy.