Mattis calls disputed waters 'North Natuna Sea' in Indonesia

By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |  Jan. 23, 2018 at 1:38 PM
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Jan. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis used the Indonesian term for parts of the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday, a move that could anger China.

Mattis met with Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and made maritime security proposals while extending cooperation with Indonesia.

He described the country as a "fulcrum" in the "Indo-Pacific region," NHK World reported.

The meeting comes after Ryacudu may have given his tacit approval for Chinese buildup in the South China Sea, as perceptions may be rising the United States is withdrawing from the region.

The defense secretary said the United States would help Indonesia play a central role in the region, and would help Jakarta maintain maritime security in the "North Natuna Sea," according to Yonhap.

Mattis' use of the term could be an indication the United States is not backing away from potential confrontation with Beijing over its activities in the South China Sea.

The North Natuna Sea is Indonesia's name for areas of the South China Sea with overlapping claims, and is located north of the country's Natuna Islands.

The area is within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone and is rich in natural gas and fisheries.

But it also overlaps with China's "Nine-Dash Line," which encircles waters Beijing claims as its own.

That area lays claim to 90 percent of disputed waters as China's.

Indonesia began to call the waters the North Natuna Sea in July 2017, a move that has irritated Beijing.

A source told Yonhap Washington and Jakarta could also be in discussions over information sharing through a system already involving partners like Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Mattis said cooperation with Indonesia is necessary because the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, should be at the center of stability.

Indonesia may also have discussed building pressure against North Korea during Mattis' visit.

Ryacudu said the United Nations should increase pressure on Pyongyang so the regime is compliant with international law.

According to Mattis, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo shared U.S. views on North Korea, and the Indonesian leader had said he is working to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the North Korea issue.

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