Did Mat Sabu blunder in admitting Malaysian Navy weaker than China’s? Experts say minister was factual

Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu watches a naval exercise aboard the KD Pahang in the waters off Kuantan May 27, 2019. — Bernama pic
Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu watches a naval exercise aboard the KD Pahang in the waters off Kuantan May 27, 2019. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — There is nothing wrong with Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu saying — at a recent international defence summit — the Malaysian Navy is inferior to that of China’s, analysts said.

Hoo Chiew Ping, senior lecturer in the Strategic Studies and International Relations Department of University Kebangsaan Malaysia, told Malay Mail that it was not strange for a country’s representative to admit the inferiority of its defence line-up.

“Yes, our Navy ship is no match for Chinese coast guard ship, but actually China’s coast guard ship outsizes almost every Navy in the South-east Asian region.

“Our defence minister is still grappling with the appropriate language for his portfolio, and as we are in the process of making our first Defence White Paper, I am certain that the minister will learn more from it,” she added of Mohamad, better known as Mat Sabu.

She added that the Malaysian Navy’s participation in both US- and Chinese-led naval drills indicated the Navy’s neutral stance.

“Our actions echo minister Mohamad’s other remark where he said, ‘We love China, we also love the US’, which is the essence of hedging,” said Hoo about Malaysia’s participation in joint naval drills with foreign forces.

South-east Asia regional director of the International Association of Counterterrorism and Security Professionals Andrin Raj told Malay Mail that Mohamad was merely stating the facts about Malaysia’s military capabilities, something not uncommon among leaders.

“The minister is right to acknowledge this, as even the US Senate has occasionally commented on US Armed Forces capabilities and at times of its equipment in comparison with Russia.

“Yes, the Chinese warships are also, some of them, superior to the Malaysian ones.”

But another defence analyst who spoke to Malay Mail slammed Mohamad, saying the minister blundered on the global stage by detailing the capabilities of Malaysia’s naval force and showed a less-than-convincing grasp of matters of national importance.

“That is an incredibly reckless thing to say. It is clear he hasn’t internalised Malaysia’s positions on key issues.

“Saying that Malaysia shares a border with China, for instance, is factually wrong and would almost certainly cause dismay among our Vietnamese and Philippine partners,” he said, on condition of anonymity.

He was referring to Mohamad’s opening address during the dialogue.

“Our Navy has the ability to complicate and delay attempts by any country, China included, to impose their will on Malaysia in the South China Sea.

“That’s all that’s needed, complicate and delay, while you seek to bring international attention to bear on the situation.

“Talking down our military capabilities will simply undermine that deterrence. It is irresponsible and dangerous,” he said.

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