PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is literally trapped between a rock and hard place when it comes to the Spratlys.
On one hand, we want part (even a small area) of the Spratlys for its promised mineral riches but on the other hand we are facing the full might of China, Asia’s long sleeping giant which had grown in strength as the US concentrated on the Middle East.
We could easily turn to the US with its current push for the Pacific as our partner to counter China. As the US is one of our biggest trading partner it will be elementary. But since the last 20 years, China has also emerged as one of our biggest trading (some would argue its bigger since most of the products we sourced from the US or manufactured here for US companies undergo final assembly in China) partner hence the current dilemma.
It would be easier if we could hide behind ASEAN skirt but it is not to be (see story below) as China had also done its homework and made sure it had strategic ties with smaller and poorer countries of the regional bloc.
If China is really belligerent about the Spratlys it could easily brushed aside our small forces stationed in Terumbu Layang-layang and six or seven other atolls and there is nothing we can do about it.
In fact they could just by-pass these islets and attacked the peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak to stake their claim and gained the whole Spratlys by default. Of course that probably will sparked a wider conflict but let’s face it we will be hard pressed to do anything about it.
It is in this context we need to see how far are we going to pacify both sides (China and the US) and at the same time enhanced old ties. This is delicate balance even if Putrajaya has a new master.
The posture we take (more or less the same stance we had adopted)will be clearer in a few months time and if my guess is correct, the MRCA programme should not be seen as if we had taken sides (though some might disagree). It must be said however, the next presidential elections in the US will have some bearing in our future conduct. A Roomney White House will probably copy its either we or them attitude.
M’sia urges ASEAN to unite over South China Sea
KOTA KINABALU (Aug 12, 2012): Malaysia’s foreign minister urged Southeast Asian countries on Sunday to settle their overlapping claims in the South China Sea before bringing them up with Beijing.
Anifah Aman’s comments, following an hour-long meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi, imply that Malaysia wants ASEAN to present a more united front against an increasingly assertive China.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have overlapping claims in the resource-rich sea, as does Taiwan.
China claims sovereignty over almost all of it.
Anifah said a repeat of confrontation, such as a June standoff between Philippine and Chinese ships over Scarborough Shoal, should be avoided.
“We are confident we can resolve this matter. China is also earnest in its desire in finding solutions… This issue can be settled through peaceful means,” he told reporters.
“There are overlapping claims by member countries. Let us discuss these among ASEAN countries first before we talk to China,” he added.
“We can only achieve this objective in the South China Sea if all parties agree. Then China can appreciate this and realise it is ASEAN’s wish.”
Anifah did not give any time frame for such an ASEAN meeting.
ASEAN foreign ministers failed to move ahead on the South China Sea issue at a regional ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh in July. The dispute prevented ASEAN from producing a joint communique for the first time in the bloc’s 45-year history.
China’s foreign minister, who met Malaysia’s prime minister on Saturday, did not attend a press conference with Anifah but told reporters that China “firmly” supported ASEAN community building.
“We firmly support the idea continuously that ASEAN is in the driver’s seat in terms of East Asian cooperation,” he said. “We agreed that we will continue to work together in cooperation and accommodating each other’s concerns and interests.”
Anifah said that ASEAN and China should work toward “the early conclusion” of a long-stalled regional code of conduct designed to reduce tensions over fishing, shipping rights and oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea. – AFP
- Malaysian Defence