Thomas Daniel was quoted in Radio Free Asia article on 29 September 2021.

The Da Yang Hao, is now operating in an area that runs through the EEZs of three countries: Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 10 has left Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) after almost a month, marine traffic data show.

The 3,400-ton survey ship, tailed by a Chinese coastguard vessel, is moving northeast out of the North Natuna Sea, where it has been since the end of August.

It is unclear where the vessel is heading, but it may stop at Fiery Cross Reef, where China operates a large outpost, for rest and resupply. Experts say it could yet head back toward Tuna Block, the oil field where U.K.-based Harbour Energy and its partner, Russia’s Zarubezhneft, are drilling two appraisal wells. The Chinese ship spent the last month surveying around the area.

The submersible rig Noble Clyde Boudreaux, commissioned by Harbour Energy, had just completed the first appraisal well “despite Chinese meddling,” the industry web portal Energy Voice reported Monday. It added that the drilling of the second well was planned to finish in early November.

Meanwhile, marine traffic data show that another Chinese survey ship, the Da Yang Hao, is now operating in an area that runs through the EEZs of three countries: Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. None of the countries has made any public comment about the Da Yang Hao yet.

Malaysia, however, keeps “tracking and shadowing Chinese vessels” which are spotted in the Malaysian waters, said Thomas Daniel, senior fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

“Malaysia has always preferred quiet diplomacy in dealing with China in the South China Sea. There have been exceptions to this, but they are few and far between,” Daniel said.

“My understanding is that Malaysia is often very forthright about its concerns and positions with China on these matters. But it is unlikely that policymakers or officials will speak of this openly as drawing public attention might be seen as potentially counterproductive in the long run,” he added.

The same approach may be adopted by the Indonesian authorities who have not said much about the Haiyang Dizhi 10, despite public pressure. Countries in the region seem reluctant to challenge China openly, mainly due to their economic reliance on the Chinese market but also to their limited maritime capabilities.

Earlier this week, the Indonesian government announced a budget proposal for 2022 in which 12.2 trillion rupiah, or $853 million, would be allocated to develop the security infrastructure in the Natuna Sea.

Indonesian media report that the budget will be used to build up defense infrastructure on strategic islands and procure maritime security equipment including unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.

The budget would be divided equally between the Indonesian Navy and the Maritime Security Force, which is known as Bakamla.

The government said 41 percent of the budget was used to meet the weapon system needs of the navy in Natuna and 44 percent was used to fulfill Bakamla’s marine security equipment needs.

China has been accused of harassing its neighbors’ fishing and oil and gas activities in the South China Sea, where its sweeping claims overlap with the claims and EEZs of other nations. Beijing asserts that these are lawful operations in waters under its jurisdiction.

This article first appeared in Radio Free Asia article on 29 September 2021.

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