Malaysia’s South China Sea Policy Amid Increasing Friction on Malaysian Territory — Fikry A. Rahman and Abdul Razak Ahmad

Monday, July 25, 2022 17:55 MYT

July 25 — On July 11, 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi completed a two-day visit to Malaysia as part of his Southeast Asian tour. This visit has had fruitful results in strengthening bilateral relations between Malaysia and China. Wang Yi’s itinerary in Malaysia included an audience with Yang Di Perchuan Agon Sultan Abdullah and a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob in Seri Perdana.

Among the important points during the visit are palm oil imports, tropical fruits and agricultural products from Malaysia to China. Another appropriate agenda was to strengthen BRI’s key projects in Malaysia, such as the digital economy and people-to-people cooperation, and to promote a code of conduct among stakeholders in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob received a courtesy call from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Perdana Putra on July 12, 2022. — Bernama pic

This visit seems to repeat the already heartfelt and strong bilateral relations between the two countries, especially in the economic area. Despite the pandemic, Malaysia-China bilateral trade in 2022 now totals MYR 421 billion, an average increase of 16%. China-related projects in Malaysia show relatively good signs with a 30% completion of the East Coast Railroad (ECRL) and new reports on the revival of the Malacca Gateway and Transsaba Gas Pipeline (TSGP).

The South China Sea remains a source of controversy, as Malaysia-China relations are embodied primarily by solid economic and diplomatic territories. Ongoing friction on Malaysian territory includes the 2020 stand-off of Petronas’ West Capella training vessel near Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the 2021 invasion of 16 Chinese military aircraft into Malaysia’s territory. And anxiously symbolized by the invasion of a series of Chinese ships into Malaysian waters. ..

Thus, Wang Yi’s recent visit to Malaysia highlights that Malaysia has missed the opportunity to take a clear position on the issues surrounding Malaysia’s territorial integrity. No mention is made of Malaysia’s repeats to defend its national interests in the South China Sea and its commitment to ensure freedom of navigation at sea.

Malaysia’s South China Sea policy has been underpinned by quiet diplomacy on maintaining benign relations and non-conflict responses to conflict, but nevertheless Malaysia is concerned with protecting national interests and territorial integrity. You have to be loud and bold.

In that regard, Malaysia’s strong economic cooperation with China should not prevent security concerns about Malaysia’s territory in the South China Sea. The new friction in the South China Sea should serve as an important turning point for Malaysia by re-emphasizing Malaysia’s claims and consolidating its stance on dangerous actions on water and airspace.

Malaysia needs to gradually deviate from its current approach of dealing with Malaysia’s water friction and building a fairly constructive mechanism. Malaysia’s South China Sea policy needs to be incorporated into an independent, principled and practical foreign policy mantra and streamlined in the 2020 Malaysian Defense White Paper to combat the new reality of the ocean. However, in the face of sea friction and uncertainty, it remains unclear how Malaysia’s foreign policy framework and defense of Japan will set a new direction for Malaysia’s South China Sea policy.

Malaysia’s reliance on international law and diplomacy will continue to be an important mechanism for resolving maritime disputes. Despite China’s commitment to the South China Sea Code of Conduct, Malaysia must play a greater role in supporting and promoting the agenda from an ASEAN perspective. This is of paramount importance in strengthening regional efforts in the South China Sea.

Malaysia’s continued assertion through legal media is commendable for its official submission to the United Nations CLCS in 2019, so a positive mechanism is still needed. is. This includes strengthening maritime capacity to patrol and protect Malaysia’s territorial integrity, as well as assets and activities in the EEZ region.

Thus, with intensifying competition and conflict in the South China Sea, which jeopardizes the integrity of Malaysia’s territory, it is time for Putrajaya to reconsider its policies in the South China Sea. Malaysia’s national interests need to be prioritized and territorial integrity protected by strengthening its overall strategy in the South China Sea.

* Fikry A. Rahman is Bait Al Amanah’s Director of Foreign Affairs and Abdul Razak Ahmad is the Founding Director of Bait Al Amanah. ** This is the personal opinion of the writer or organization, not necessarily Malay Mail. Malaysia’s South China Sea Policy Amid Increasing Friction on Malaysian Territory — Fikry A. Rahman and Abdul Razak Ahmad

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