JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia on Monday protested the Chinese coast guard's retrieval of a ship while it was detained for fishing illegally in Indonesian waters.
An Indonesian fisheries ministry patrol ship had intercepted the Chinese vessel on Saturday within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone which overlaps with the southernmost reaches of the South China Sea, according to Indonesia. Eight crewmen were detained.
The fishing vessel Kway Fey was being towed when a Chinese coastguard vessel collided with it, allowing its escape.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters after meeting with a senior Chinese diplomat that China's coast guard "violated our sovereignty" and called on China to respect international law.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Chinese ship was being "harassed" by an armed Indonesian vessel. Hua said the incident occurred within traditional Chinese fishing grounds and that the coast guard ship moved to assist the fishing trawler without entering Indonesian territorial waters.
"China immediately urged Indonesia to release the arrested Chinese fishermen and protect their life safety. We hope Indonesia can make joint efforts with China to properly handle this case, considering the general landscape of the China-Indonesia relations," Hua said.
Indonesia has destroyed dozens of foreign ships for illegally fishing in its waters, and maritime and fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti called on Beijing to stand against illegal and unregulated fishing.
Local media reported a Chinese patrol vessel also snatched back a detained Chinese ship from Indonesian control in 2013.
China's expansive claims to most of the South China Sea have raised tensions with its Southeast Asian neighbors, especially as China reclaims land on reefs and builds infrastructure in disputed areas. Indonesia is not involved in the territorial disputes and Marsudi said that had not changed.
Beijing has sought to discourage Indonesia, a leading member of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations, from joining fellow members Vietnam and the Philippines in challenging China's sea claims.
Indonesian authorities are concerned an increasingly assertive China might enlarge its claims to include the Natuna Islands. Indonesia's military chief has said it was strengthening its forces there. Hua reiterated Monday that China does not challenge Indonesia's ownership of the Natunas.