Indonesia will cap Wednesday's Independence Day celebrations by scuttling as many as 71 impounded foreign vessels — mostly Vietnamese but also a handful of Chinese — to signal its determination to protect its sovereignty over lucrative fishing grounds in the South China Sea.

The destruction of the boats comes amid simmering regional tensions over territorial disputes in the water. Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the main challenge facing the country was to ensure the message wasn't misinterpreted.

Natalegawa said the signal has to be conveyed that Indonesia is determined to protect its national sovereignty and territorial integrity. "But some of the risk in our region nowadays is precisely the risk of misperception, miscalculation, minor incidents becoming bigger crises," he said in a telephone interview last week. "The region as a whole should not lose the habit of open dialogue and diplomatic communication."