JAKARTA - Indonesia plans to open a fishing zone within its exclusive economic zone at the southern edge of the disputed South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China, later this year, to prevent foreign encroachment, a Cabinet minister said Wednesday.
Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan told a press conference the fishing zone is located in the Natuna Sea, a section of the South China Sea, which is within Indonesia's EEZ but which China claims to be part of its "traditional fishing grounds."
"We have now a tanker ship there that will supply fuel at sea for our fishermen...and naval patrol boats," Pandjaitan said, expressing hope that by developing the area, "there will be no countries who claim that the zone is their traditional fishing grounds."
China made such a declaration in 2016 after some Chinese fishing boats were caught by the Indonesian authorities for operating illegally in Natuna Sea.
According to Pandjaitan, a fish market, a cold storage and a fish-processing center, as well as other facilities, including a possible boarding house for fishermen, will be built on the Natuna Islands as parts of the fishing zone that will be opened in the third quarter of this year.
Its opening will follow that of a military base with over 1,000 personnel on Natuna Besar Island, located in the middle of the Natuna Islands, which are situated between Borneo and the Malay Peninsula, more than a 1,000 kilometers from Jakarta, in December.
Replacing an unsophisticated airbase and a small naval base, the new base has a hangar for an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron and it will be improved in accordance with threat levels.
In 2017, the Indonesian government unveiled an updated national map in which the country's EEZ north of the Natuna Islands was renamed the North Natuna Sea. It was previously described as being part of the South China Sea.
Immediately after the name change, China expressed opposition to the move, saying changing an internationally accepted name complicates and expands the dispute, affects peace and stability and will not be conducive for the peaceful bilateral relations.
Indonesia countered, however, that it had the right to name its territorial waters and the North Natuna Sea falls within them.
In 2002, Indonesia renamed the section of the South China Sea within its EEZ as the Natuna Sea, except for the waters north of the Natuna Islands. With the latest name change, the term South China Sea is no longer used for any part of Indonesia's territorial waters.
While China recognizes Indonesian sovereignty over the Natuna Islands, it insists the two countries have overlapping claims to maritime rights and interests in the area that need to be resolved -- a claim that Indonesia rejects.
In the South China Sea, home to some of the world's busiest sea lanes, China has overlapping territorial claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.