On the sidelines of the recent ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo met his counterpart, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phu, where they agreed to accelerate the ongoing negotiations between their countries on the delimitation of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ).
One official attending the talks said, “The negotiation has taken a long time, and the two leaders stated that efforts to resolve this negotiation should be accelerated, otherwise we would experience incidents like we have experienced so far.”
The EEZ delimitation discussions between Vietnam and Indonesia have been going on for years without results. Indonesia and Vietnam’s last mutual agreement was in 2003, on the issue of a continental shelf boundary, which took more than 30 years to negotiate.
On April 27, an incident between an Indonesian Navy vessel and a Vietnam Fisheries Resources Surveillance (VFRS) Agency vessel that was accompanying a Vietnam fishing vessel, believed to be illegally fishing in Indonesia waters, made international headlines when the two vessels crashed.
In order to avoid similar incidents, legal experts have suggested that the two countries establish standard operating procedures that will be in effect on a temporary basis to deal with the disputed waters that both countries claim as part of their EEZs.
In order to solve this problem, officials from both countries are expected to meet within the next few weeks to discuss a variety of issues regarding their EEZs, as well as discussing temporary guidelines for the disputed waters.
In early June, Indonesia and the Philippines ratified an EEZ delimitation agreement between the two countries. The agreement sets out boundaries in the overlapping EEZs of the Philippines and Indonesia in Mindanao and Celebes seas. The foreign ministers of Indonesia and Philippines are expected to meet in August and will formally sign and exchange ratification documents at that time.
When Indonesian President Jokowi met Philippine President Duterte in Bangkok, they praised the resolution of the issue and said that, “The agreement provides legal certainty on the EEZ boundary between the two countries.”
The agreement was the first maritime boundary agreement between the two largest archipelagic states. The agreed line was drawn from the respective archipelagic straight baselines using a set of innovative provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Businesses in both Indonesia and Vietnam are hopeful that interim agreement between their countries can be completed within the next 12 ~ 18 months. There are a number of cross-border fishery and mineral deals that are pending between companies in the two countries, but these deals are contingent on the respective governments concluding agreements in a timely manner.