A Wary Warrior: Indonesia’s “Soft-Assertiveness” in the South China Sea

Senia Febrica, Scott Romaniuk

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review



The South China Sea (SCS) – a semi-enclosed sea – is one of the world's key shipping routes and richest fishing grounds. Shared by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines, the SCS also sees one third of global trade pass through its waters. The SCS is also known for its high economic value. It is rich with high value marine life, particularly demersal fish and tuna, and significant deposits of hydrocarbons trapped beneath the Kalayaan Island Group's (KIG) seabed. The overarching maritime dispute in this highly strategic locale involves six claimant states including China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, with China representing the strongest of these countries in terms of its military capabilities. Although Indonesia is not a claimant state, as one of the coastal states of the SCS Indonesia has played and will almost certainly continue to occupy a central role in efforts to manage the conflict. Through its ongoing efforts to diffuse the conflict, Indonesia has engaged parties to the disputes primarily through the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the Track 2 approach, namely the Workshop on Managing Potential Conflict in the South China Sea that Jakarta has organized since 1990.

In recent years the development of the multi-faceted dispute in SCS has raised serious concern among states about the potential escalation of the conflict, with experts assessing the possibility and probability that the dispute could turn into a hot war. Zheng Hao expressed that, “[a] close look at recent US military activities and China-US military relations would indicate that the SCS situation is moving towards the brink of conflict.” Oliana Skylar Mastro asserts that, “[i]t would be wrong to assume that China is satisfied with the gains it has made or that it would refrain from using more aggressive tactics in the future.” Referring to the Cold War and the improbability of war between the two superpowers starting in Central Europe, John Mearsheimer explained, “contrast that with the situation in East Asia, which is the central flash point between United States and China, the three places where you could possibly have a war involve the South China Sea, Taiwan and the East China Sea.”
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSecurity, Strategy, and Military Dynamics in the South China Sea: Cross-National Perspectives
EditorsGordon Houlden, Scott N. Romaniuk, Nong Hong
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherBristol University Press
ISBN (Electronic)978-1529213478
ISBN (Print)978-1529213454
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2021


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