Indonesia will deploy F-16 fighter jets to Natuna islands in the South China Sea amid growing tension in the contested region, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told Bloomberg Thursday. The measure is part of a military expansion on the islands that will have a renovated runway and a new port, Ryacudu added.
The move comes within two weeks of Chinese coast guard's clash with Indonesian authorities over Beijing’s fishing boats seized by Jakarta. The coast guard had rammed the boats to force it free from the Indonesian authorities leading to heated confrontation between the two countries.
According to Ryacudu, the Indonesian military will, or has already, deployed marines, air force special force units, an army battalion, three frigates, a new radar system and drones, at the Natuna islands, Bloomberg reported.
“Natuna is a door, if the door is not guarded then thieves will come inside,” Ryacudu said. “There has been all this fuss because until now it has not been guarded. This is about the respect of the country.”
Ryacudu added that he was considering introducing military recruitment in Natuna and other remote areas of the 17,000 island archipelago, “so if something happens people won’t be afraid and know what to do.”
Although Indonesia is not involved in the South China Sea territorial dispute, the recent incident with the Chinese coast guard indicated that the country would be pulled into the conflict, Bloomberg reported.
The South China Sea region has been long contested, with Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam laying claim to various areas. The world’s second largest economy has been expanding its presence in the disputed area and has consistently defended its actions, saying it does not have any intentions of starting a conflict and that its military presence will maintain safety in the region.
China has deployed YJ-62 subsonic anti-ship cruise missile in South China Sea’s Woody Island. The anti-ship cruise missile was likely deployed at about the same time China’s HQ-9 surface-to-air missile system was first detected on the island in February.
On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama against encroaching on China’s sovereignty in the contested waters of the South China Sea. The United States has been regularly sending ships to the South China Sea under the freedom of navigation patrols angering Beijing.