Fadli, Batam – Riau Islands Governor Ansar Ahmad says sovereignty issues are important factors to make the Natuna island chain into its own autonomous province.
Natuna regency, part of the Riau Islands province, sits in the outermost region in the country's north and is very close to a major flashpoint in Southeast Asia. The regency not only borders the hotly contested South China Sea but also Vietnam and Cambodia.
"The islands are in border areas and are also quite far from the province's administrative center of Tanjungpinang," Ansar said on Wednesday.
The governor said that the central government needs to immediately create the new province, so the Riau Islands province can focus on developing Batam, Bintan and Karimun special economic zones.
The 270 or so islands are home to approximately 80,000 residents. Ansar acknowledges that from the number of residents, Natuna is not qualified for a province.
"But the essential reason is the sovereignty factor. Sovereignty issue can supersede [other considerations]," Ansar said.
He said that Natuna needs stronger central government representatives; by creating a new province, Natuna will have leveled up police and military presence.
The proposal to make the region its own province was tabled by local authorities in 2019, based on the suggestion that it was an outlying yet strategic location that suffered from massive underdevelopment.
In November 2021, the government ruled out the possibility of making the Natuna island chain into its own autonomous province, at least until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and more resources become available again.
The 2014 Law on regional administrations currently does not afford regency and city administrations the authority to oversee territorial seas and economic waters, thus preventing regencies like Natuna from securing areas from foreign encroachment.
In 2017, the government renamed waters in the northern part of Natuna as North Natuna Sea, further marking Indonesia's territorial sea and exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the area. China objected to the renaming.
China has illegally operated fishing and coast guard vessels in the waters on the basis of sweeping claims over the adjacent South China Sea. An international tribunal invalidated those claims in 2016, which Beijing ignored.
The spat with China has on more than one occasion led President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to visit Natuna as a symbolic gesture to stamp authority on the region. (dre)