Once again, Indonesia proved its ability in delimiting maritime boundaries with its neighbours. After an approximately 5-year intensive negotiation, Indonesia managed to agree a maritime boundary segment with Singapore in the Strait of Singapore (The Jakarta Post, February 4, 2009). The existing agreement between the two countries was signed in 1973 delimiting territorial sea between Singapore and Indonesia’s Pulau Batam. The segment is ‘floating’ containing six turning points. Point P1 is at the western tip and point P6 is at the eastern tip of the line. Beyond these two points at the western side and eastern side are gaps. Apparently, Indonesia and Singapore managed to close one of the gaps by agreeing a new line starting from point P1 westward.
This new maritime boundary is the second one with Singapore, 36 years after the first one was concluded. For Indonesia, this is also the second one in the 21st century with a maritime boundary segment with Vietnam concluded in June 2003. The boundary was negotiated with Vietnam for approximately 25 years since 1978. Previously, in 1997, a maritime boundary line was agreed between Indonesia and Australia after the first maritime boundary signed between the two countries in 1971. This proved that maritime boundary negotiation is by no mean easy to conclude. It is consequently imaginable, how complex it is for Indonesia to settle maritime boundaries with ten neighbours: India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Australia and Timor Leste.
Up to date, Indonesia has settled, fully or partially, maritime boundaries with seven neighbours. Meanwhile, maritime boundaries with the Philippines, Palau, and Timor Leste are now under negotiation or preparation of negotiation. At the same time, negotiation with other countries like Malaysia for other pending maritime boundaries is also taking place.
The decision taken by Indonesia and Singapore to negotiate the boundaries is a good choice. Notwithstanding the fact that establishing maritime boundaries through bilateral negotiation is relatively slow, it is preferable compared to submitting the case before the third party such as International Court of Justice (ICJ) or International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The very first reason is that both parties could take full control over their case instead of letting a third party making a decision. Secondly, it is rare indeed that a negotiation results in one participant gaining everything and the other nothing. Most likely, both parties will gain something, even though the gain is not always the same as the proposal of each party.
Thirdly, taking a case to a third party, such as ICJ and ITLOS, apparently costs a huge amount of money. It is worth remembering that the Sipadan and Ligitan case between Indonesia and Malaysia costed around Rp 16 billion (USD 1.4 millions) for the Indonesian side (see: Hassan Wirajuda in Tempo Interaktif, December 23, 2002). Having said that, negotiation is certainly a hugely attractive and likely route to dispute resolution compared to third-party settlement options.
It is worth noting that the existing boundaries between Indonesia and Singapore signed in 1973 does not specify geodetic datum. A geodetic datum is a reference onto which coordinates of position are expressed. Without a specific geodetic datum coordinates of boundary points (latitudes and longitudes) mean nothing. This can bring difficulties in law enforcement. Practically speaking, the absence of geodetic datum in a maritime boundary treaty will make border patrol teams unable to tell whether or not a vessel/boat committing border crossing, for instance. In the new treaty, this geodetic datum issue has been, ideally, taken into account. Otherwise, the treaty will end up in the same situation with the old one.
Another good point for Indonesia is the success in applying its archipelagic baseline in delimiting the new maritime boundary with Singapore. One basepoint of the archipelagic baseline, from which the new boundary line was constructed, is located on Pulau Nipah, which was excessively mined for its sand. This means that Pulau Nipah is recognised as an island pursuant to the criteria set in the Article 121 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is eligible to be a basepoint. If the island were sunk, the story of maritime boundary delimitation between the two countries might have been different, with a probable disadvantage for Indonesian.
The next homework for Indonesia and Singapore is to sign the agreement and then exchanging the ratification note so that the treaty is final and binding for both countries. After that, the completion of the eastern segment starting from point P6 eastward is in the queue. The final maritime boundaries will be a trilateral business involving Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The decision by the ICJ concerning the sovereignty over three geographical features in the Strait (i.e. Pedra Branca or Batu Puteh, Middle Rock, and South Ledge) may, to an extent, facilitate the maritime boundary delimitation among the tree countries. However, the ICJ did not fully settle the sovereignty over South Ledge, which has yet to be decided between Malaysia and Singapore. This may take some times.
The success of Indonesia and Singapore in achieving maritime boundary through series of negotiation is an example of good bilateral relationship. This once again proves that countries in South East Asia can find their way to settle dispute peacefully. To some extents, this may motivate the resolves of other pending maritime boundaries between Indonesia and its neighbours and also other maritime boundary disputes all around the world. This model of dispute resolution is a state practice that other maritime boundary cases may refer to.
To sum up, Indonesia and Singapore has demonstrated a good way to agree maritime boundary between them. For Indonesia, this adds up the list of agreed maritime boundaries with its neighbours. However, Indonesia has some other homework to do regarding maritime boundaries in the near future. The collaboration between technical and non technical team in negotiation is to be maintained for more good achievements in the future.
Please read the edited version in the Jakarta Post…