Here’s why Jakarta doesn’t push back when China barges into Indonesian waters

A ship from the China Coast Guard (top) cruises by a Vietnam Marine Guard ship in the South China Sea in May 2014. (Nguyen Minh/Reuters)

A China Coast Guard vessel rammed a Chinese fishing boat free in March after Indonesian authorities had seized it for illegal fishing off the Natuna Islands, Indonesia’s northernmost territory in the South China Sea. The Indonesian patrol let the Chinese ships go, as has been the case in similar incidents.

Peaceful management of the area is in Indonesia’s strategic interests, even though the country is not part of the disputed South China Sea claims involving Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and China. But China’s claim to roughly 90 percent of the area overlaps with the Natunas’ Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). And Indonesian President Joko Widodo — better known as Jokowi — has prioritized the development of marine resources and the protection of the country’s maritime borders since assuming office in 2014.

Is Jokowi about to stand up to Chinese encroachment into Indonesia’s coastal waters?

But Indonesia is not pushing back against China. Here’s what neo-classical realist international relations theory suggests about why this is

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