JAKARTA: Indonesia plans to develop lucrative fishing grounds in the South China Sea as part of efforts to assert its sovereign authority over waters in which it has clashed with China.
The Natuna Islands on the edge of the South China Sea, rich in gas and fish stocks, would be developed into a fishing hub, Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said Friday, according to the Jakarta Post. The government plans to build cold-storage facilities and use satellites and drones to help Indonesian fishing vessels operating in the surrounding waters, with the hub to be operational by the end of the year.
While Indonesia is not a claimant in the broader dispute over the South China Sea, it does insist on its sovereign rights to waters around the Natuna Islands. The area has in the past seen clashes between Indonesian and Chinese vessels, while a move by Indonesia to name the waters the North Natuna Sea sparked a diplomatic row with Beijing.
“We would also be providing refueling tankers for our fishing boats … so no one can claim that [the area is their] traditional fishing zone,” Pandjaitan said in a discussion in Jakarta on Friday, the Jakarta Post reported.
Indonesia has been waging an aggressive campaign to curb illegal fishing in its territorial waters and has seized hundreds of foreign vessels in recent years, even blowing up some in public displays. The latest development comes as Indonesia heads toward a presidential election in April, when relations with China could be an issue.
President Joko Widodo has sought billions of dollars in financing from China to help pay for a massive infrastructure drive, including for a high-speed rail project funded under the so-called Belt and Road Initiative. The opposition, led by former general Prabowo Subianto, has seized on a deteriorating trade balance with China and has said if elected it would seek a better deal with Beijing.