IBTimes UK

Indonesia has said it will summon Chinese ambassador over a maritime standoff involving Chinese coast guards and Indonesian officials in an area known as the Natuna Sea near the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Indonesia's Minister of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Susi Pudjiastuti said Indonesian officials tried to capture a ship that was illegally fishing in Indonesian waters. However, a Chinese coast guard ship intervened and took the vessels back to South China Sea.

"We will summon the Chinese ambassador [Xie Feng] to discuss the issue [on Monday]. Because in the process of capturing the ship, a standoff occurred," the minister told reporters, Malay Mail reported.

"We respect China, but we must also maintain our sovereignty," the minister said.

Though China has disputes with countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei over maritime borders in the South China Sea, Indonesia has traditionally played the role of an intermediary.

Indonesia said the standoff occurred less than four kilometers off the country's Natuna islands, adding that the area was within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone.

China, however, said the incident happened in "a traditional Chinese fishing ground."

"The Chinese fishing vessel was conducting its regular operation when chased by an armed Indonesian vessel. It is hoped that the Indonesian side could properly handle this issue, taking into consideration the overall picture of our bilateral relations," Chinese embassy spokesman Xu Hangtian said in a statement.

China lays claim to the whole of the South China Sea, saying the Paracel and Spratly island chains are integral part of the empire from ages.

Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have claims to a clutch of islands, shoals, rocky outcrops, atolls and sandbanks in the sprawling south China sea, making it a theatre of tense maritime dispute.

The South China Sea dispute came to the fore in recent weeks with China deploying missile batteries and fighter jets to the Paracel island chain and the US holding a summit of Asean leaders in a move to brace up against the Chinese dominance in the region.

IBTimes UK