This article was originally published in Sinar Daily, dated 16th May 2022.
The nine-dash line includes Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands, near east Malaysia's coast. - Pic RFA, org.
SHAH ALAM - As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues to rage, experts say Malaysia needs to keep an eye on the South East Asian region.
Bait Al Amanah founding director Abdul Razak Ahmad said Malaysia needs to be more assertive in staking its claims in the South China Sea to protect its national interests.
“Malaysia is aware that China’s assertiveness and its claim based on the nine-dash line over the sea will not wane off,” he said, referring to the area claimed by China in the South China Sea. This includes Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands, near east Malaysia's coast.
“Let this be a good call that Malaysia needs to uphold its stance on fostering friendly ties with both ends of the spectrum among major superpowers and begin more actively exploring its alternative partners in foreign affairs that are more reliable,” he said.
Razak also said Malaysia must tighten up its territorial waters by bolstering its capacity and capabilities, by strengthening military assets and making use of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement that establishes a legal framework for all marine and maritime activities.
“ Upholding the law of the sea on the South China Sea that acts as one of the main channels to deter any assertiveness will help Malaysia’s effort to strengthen its claim on the sea and defend territorial integrity,” he said.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative had reported last October that Chinese boats have been harassing civilian vessels in Malaysian oil and gas fields in the South China Sea “on a daily basis” for the past two years.
The Chinese coast guard was aiming to “control” the Luconia Shoals, where Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas company has several oil and gas fields, including on the large Kasawari gas field being developed by Petronas.
Last year June, it was reported that 16 Chinese military aircraft intruded into Malaysia, an event which saw Malaysia scramble fighter jets in response and to lodge a diplomatic protest. Malaysia has responded by holding its own military exercises such as the large scale “Taming Sari” where it demonstrated its anti-ship capabilities and has participated in multinational exercises in the area.
International Islamic University Malaysia assistant professor Olsi Jazexhi pointed out that China would be deterred from making further aggressive moves in the South China Sea by the presence of powerful international forces.
“The Chinese do not seem ready for a war in the South China Sea, even though they test the waters and try to slowly but surely expand their power in the South China Sea.
“For as long as the US and Australian presence is strong in the Asia Pacific region China will not dare to exploit the South China sea. "The Chinese are expanding in the South China Sea and sometimes they illegally cross the air and sea borders but for the time being they seem to be trying to evade any open act of hostility against their neighbours,” he said.
Olsi asserted that should China engage in open warfare it would risk incurring catastrophic consequences that would see its economy devastated by sanctions the following internal revolts will put the Chinese government under immense external and internal pressure.
“The Russian intervention in Ukraine has probably emboldened the Chinese but at the same time, by seeing the total sanctions that the West has implemented against Russia, the Chinese will have to think twice before entering in any regional confrontation," he told Sinar Daily.
China has many internal economic problems and its economic well-being largely depends on trade with the outside world and its neighbours in particular, he added. In case of a regional conflict and the sanctions that will follow, the Chinese economy will collapse, he added.