Article by I Made Andi Arsana , New South Wales, Australia | Wed, 08/19/2009 10:51 AM | Opinion
Back in 1991, the world “archipelago” was really famous. Almost everybody knew that the motto for Visit Indonesia Year was “let’s go archipelago!” Being a very young kid with limited knowledge of English, the word “archipelago” caught my attention.
The word sounded unusual and that made it easy to remember. But it wasn’t until almost 15 years later that I came close to understanding the meaning of the word “archipelago”.
Yes, Indonesia is an archipelago, a nation state made up of thousands of islands. It is the largest archipelagic state in the world, stretching from approximately 95° E to 141° E longitude and from 6° N to 11° S latitude, with a coastline approximately 81,000 kilometers long.
Given this vast ocean territory, it is important to look at whether or not Indonesia has firmly secured its sovereign rights to its maritime areas and if these rights are being optimally utilized for the prosperity of its people.
Now that Indonesia is 64 years old, it’s a good time to look forward at the steps that should be taken
to secure maritime rights in the future.
Indonesia lies between two oceans – the Pacific and the India – and between two continents – Australia and Asia. Thus Indonesia is usually referred to as a “cross-roads”. This status is a strategic advantage on one hand; but it makes the country vulnerable. Indonesia shares maritime areas with 10 neighboring states.
Indonesia has agreed upon 16 maritime boundaries with its neighbors, but disputes remain over several others. Because of this, Indonesia is not yet in a position where its sovereign rights over its maritime areas are totally assured.
The infamous Ambalat case is one example of the problems that can arise when maritime boundaries remain unresolved.
The absence of a line delimiting the seabed area to the east of Kalimantan/Borneo is, among other reasons, why tension emerged between the two neighbors.
Other maritime boundaries to be settled include those with Malaysia in the Malacca Strait, with Singapore in the Singapore Strait, with Vietnam in the South China Sea, with the Philippines and Palau in the Pacific Ocean, and with Timor Leste in the Ombai Strait, Wetar Strait and Timor Sea.
It is also worth noting that some of the existing agreements with neighboring states are incomplete because they, for example, only concern the seabed, and not water columns.
The boundary of the seabed, but not the water, has been agreed on in the Malacca Strait and parts of the South China Sea.
Settling maritime boundaries is by no means easy. Negotiations with Vietnam, for example, took around 25 years to finalize. The task is even harder when settling maritime boundaries is not considered a priority.
Therefore, the incoming administration should ideally continue the currently strong commitment to accelerating the settling of Indonesia’s maritime boundaries.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that maritime boundary disputes can easily spark public outrage, which is often the result of a lack of understanding. It is important for relevant government parties to effectively communicate information on these matters to the public. The promulgation of the Law No. 43/2008 on the national territory, for example, is good progress.
But information concerning the implementation of this law needs to be well disseminated among the people.
With regard to the use of maritime resources, a senior maritime expert stated once that “yes, Indonesia is an archipelagic state, but it is not yet a maritime nation.” Perhaps sarcastic, this statement is grounded in reality. Indonesia, geographically and legally, is two-thirds ocean.
However, Indonesia has plenty of work to do before it can optimize the use of its maritime resources.
Indonesia only established the Office of Minister for Marine Affairs and Fisheries in 1999 and, after 10 years, it still has a lot of issues address, despite some important achievements. Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) Fishing is one of the major issues faced by Indonesia with regard to ocean resources management.
More importantly, not enough research is encouraged. The number of experts on ocean affairs and the law of the sea seem to be decreasing. We also lack resources and publications in this area of expertise. It seems that Indonesia has yet to gain its independence and confidence concerning the management of its vast maritime territory.
There is no simple solution for this complicated situation. One thing is for sure though, the Indonesian government and relevant stakeholders need to make ocean affairs an important priority.
Multidisciplinary researches and activities related to observing the ocean and its resources need to be encouraged by providing sufficient incentives.
This should be made an ABG – academics, business, and government – concern. Only with serious efforts, including systematic education, well-planned research and closely-monitored policy implementation, will Indonesia be truly independent in managing its vast maritime area. Happy birthday Indonesia!
The writer is a lecturer at Gadjah Mada University’s Department of Geodetic Engineering. He is currently an Australian Leadership Award Scholar (PhD candidate) at the University of Wollongong, where he studies the technical aspects of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea. This is his personal opinion.
Source: Jakarta Post.