JAKARTA, -- Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines may conduct joint patrols in parts of the disputed South China Sea, said Indonesia’s military chief General Gatot Nurmantyo.
At a meeting in Yogyakarta on May 5, foreign ministers of the three ASEAN countries had agreed to conduct patrols to combat piracy in the Sulu and Sulawesi Sea.
However, on Wednesday (May 18), the Indonesian military chief hinted that joint operations could go beyond their earlier commitments, saying that the trilateral patrols agreed upon may actually venture beyond the Sulu and Sulawesi Sea.
General Gatot stressed that Indonesia remains a non-claimant state in the disputed territory, despite the possible joint patrols in parts of the South China Sea.
His plans come as a surprise and security analysts said this could further stoke tensions in the already disputed waterways. The idea of a joint patrol is likely to be supported by the Philippines because on its own, it only has a limited capability to deter China.
One analyst said he believes General Gatot’s proposal was made unilaterally - something which he probably has not yet discussed with his own government.
"If you come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I strongly believe the ministry will reject any idea about Indonesian involvement on patrols in the South China Sea,” said Alman Helvas Ali, a researcher at the Indonesian Institute for Strategic and Defense Studies.
“Last year, for example, Singapore proposed joint patrols on the South China Sea in the eastern part of the Malaya peninsula, between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, but Indonesia rejected the idea because it is too sensitive for Indonesia," he added.
General Gatot said he will soon meet with his Malaysian and Philippine counterparts to discuss details of the patrols in the Sulu and Sulawesi Sea. During that meeting, the possibility of expanding the scope of the cooperation to conduct joint patrols in parts of the South China Sea could also be on the table.
The Philippine Navy crew members conducting search and rescue mission.