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Circumventing Conflict: The Indonesia–Malaysia Ambalat Block Dispute

Part of the Asia in Transition book series (AT,volume 3)


The Ambalat block dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia has been the most controversial issue between the two countries since konfrontasi came to an end in 1966. The dispute arose from the two country’s overlapping claims to sovereign rights in the oil rich Ambalat region and intensified in the first decade of the twenty-first century when a naval stand-off between the two sides threatened to escalate the dispute into a military conflict. However, numerous measures, practices and approaches were used to manage, although not resolve, the dispute peacefully. The chapter provides a comprehensive background to the origins and development of the dispute, the factors driving its escalation and subsequent de-escalation, and discusses the various short, medium and long-term management conflict mechanisms employed by the two sides that have mitigated their incompatibilities and successfully circumvented conflict.


  • Archipelagic state
  • Exclusive Economic Zone
  • Crisis management
  • Relationship management
  • Incompatibility management
  • Joint development

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  1. 1.

    Indonesia was one of a number of designated archipelagic states recognized by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that took place in Montego Bay, Jamaica on December 10, 1982.

  2. 2.

    PERTAMINA: Perusahaan Pertambangan Minyak dan Gas Bumi Negara (The State Oil and Natural Gas Mining Company).

  3. 3.

    Such a claim does not stand up to historical scrutiny as there is no evidence of an archipelagic conquest by Gaja Mada, while Majapahit had declined well before Western colonialism. Tangsubkul (1982) points out other problems relating to this argument.

  4. 4.

    See Martin (2012) for a discussion on the term “Indon”.

  5. 5.

    In relation to UNCLOS 1982, sovereignty only comes into force in territorial seas which extend no more than 12 nautical miles from the baseline of a coastal state (Article 2). Thus while the Ambalat block may come under Indonesia’s jurisdiction as part of its EEZ this relates to sovereign rights and not sovereignty. See Arsana (2010).

  6. 6.

    On Islam Hadhari, see Gatsiounis (2006) and Badawi (2006).

  7. 7.

    These discussions were not confined to the Ambalat issue but covered other disputed border areas.

  8. 8.

    This is no withstanding recent Malaysian incursions in the area (see Parlina 2015)

  9. 9.

    It is estimated that 5000 ships fish illegally every day in Indonesia which costs the country over $20 billion per year (Parameswaran 2015).

  10. 10.

    An example is the recent Malaysian Proton Holdings Berhard’s collaboration with Indonesian firm PT Adiperkasa Citra Lestari on the development of a “national car” (see Yulisman 2015). Malaysian companies also stand to gain from Jokowi’s maritime policy with one group recently announcing plans to invest $5.3 billion in developing maritime infrastructure in West Java (see Kurniawan and Syukra 2015).


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Correspondence to Stephen C. Druce .

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© 2016 Springer Science+Business Media Singapore

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Druce, S.C., Baikoeni, E.Y. (2016). Circumventing Conflict: The Indonesia–Malaysia Ambalat Block Dispute. In: Oishi, M. (eds) Contemporary Conflicts in Southeast Asia. Asia in Transition, vol 3. Springer, Singapore.

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