“It’s more a fight for fish than for oil”

The simmering maritime disputes and land grabs in the South China Sea have long been seen as a battle over its potentially vast undersea deposits of oil and natural gas. That’s not quite true: There is a sometimes violent scramble for resources in the region, but it’s more a fight for fish than for oil. The latest evidence came Tuesday, when Indonesia blew up 23 fishing boats from Vietnam and Malaysia that it said were poaching in Indonesian waters. It wasn’t the first time Indonesia’s flamboyant, chain-smoking fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, has literally dynamited her way to international headlines: The country demolished 27 fishing boats in February and has scuttled more than 170 in the last two years. But the move is significant all the same, because it underscores how central fishing is to the simmering territorial disputes that are turning the South China Sea into a potential global flash point — and how far countries are willing to go to defend their turf, or at least what they claim is theirs.

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