The height of recent hostility has come as a result of yet another standoff between China and a nearby South China Sea nation, with Indonesia expressing fury after Chinese fishing vessels entered the country’s economic exclusion zone last week. Dozens of boats entered the region on the periphery of the Natuna waters, located in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Indonesia, and only departed last Thursday.
But China‘s latest act of aggression may have backfired as Indonesia calls on Japan to help defy Beijing’s military presence in the South China Sea region.
President in Jakarta, Joko Widodo, invited Japan to “invest in the area” surrounding Natuna waters.
The Chinese boats left the Indonesian EEZ last week after Mr Widodo personally visited the islands in the region as a show of defiance.
Indonesia had stepped up air and sea patrols in the area and summoned China’s ambassador over the appearance of the ships.
Japan’s entry into the fray is not the only threat coming Beijing’s way, though.
Another aggrieved nation in the region, Malaysia, has taken the same route as Indonesia and Vietnam in pursuing legal action against China.
Malaysia decided in December to extend its continental shelf by submitting a petition to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).
The decision came as the countries wrestle for control in the Spratly Islands, where China has built huge military bases.
Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the South China Sea with man made island bases, and has been accused of forming them specifically for military purposes.
The legal route has also been pursued by the Philippines.
In 2016, the Philippines won a case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating China’s claims to almost the entire stretch of sea. China does not recognise the ruling.
The tribunal in The Hague found that China had violated sovereign Filipino rights under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The South China Sea is hotly contested because of its lucrative shipping lanes, capacity for military strategic advantages and wealth of natural resources such as oil and minerals.
At the centre of this disagreement are various island clusters such as the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. China has had particularly tense relations with Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the region.