Indonesian air force holds drill near South China Sea

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Indonesia’s air force today held a military exercise near the South China Sea, where clashes have occurred between the country’s naval patrols and Chinese fishing vessels.

The drill on the Natuna islands involved more than 2,000 air force personnel and dozens of aircraft, including Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets, military spokesperson Tatang Sulaiman said.

President Joko Widodo was on hand to watch the event, his second visit to the Natunas since June.

The drills had been scheduled to be held on the island of Belitung at the end of September but was moved to the Natunas for undisclosed reasons.

Indonesia has accused Chinese fishing vessels of stealing fish off the Natunas, in what Jakarta says is part of its exclusive economic zone.

There have been three clashes involving Indonesian navy ships and Chinese trawlers this year, as part of Indonesia’s ongoing crackdown on illegal fishing.

China lodged a strong protest with Indonesia in June after Indonesian warships fired shots at Chinese fishing boats that Beijing said were operating on their “traditional fishing grounds”.

The Natuna Islands and surrounding waters are the closest to the Nine-Dash Line, a demarcation used by China as the basis of its unilateral claim to a majority of the resource-rich South China Sea.

Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the sea, but Indonesia has denied an overlapping claim with China.

- dpa

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