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BANGKOK, Nov 4 — Malaysia is a small country and does not have the military might to take on China in a confrontation over its nine-dash claim to the resource-rich South China Sea, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today.
The prime minister said he had pointed out Malaysia’s position to Australia during their bilateral discussion on the sidelines of the 35th Asean Summit here earlier.
“We pointed out that we are a small country. Can’t confront China. If they want to claim South China Sea as theirs, that’s their concern.
“As far as we are concerned, we want to have free passage through the South China Sea and also in the air,” he said in a news conference with Malaysian journalists.
Dr Mahathir also said China has not acted aggressively towards Malaysia in the sea dispute and indicated that Malaysia was not ceding its ownership of territories in one of the most strategic waterways in the world.
“So far, China has not done anything to restrict ships over South China Sea and we are quite satisfied with that.
“I pointed out that we have claim also in South China Sea because of five islands altogether that’s ours.”
The prime minister told the Malaysian press that in a separate discussion involving the 10-member Asean bloc and China, Japan and South Korea, the three North-east Asian economic heavyweights had offered developmental assistance.
“I mentioned in my speech that there is a disparity in terms of development between North-east Asia and South-east Asia,” he recounted of what transpired during the Asean+3 meeting.
Dr Mahathir said he expressed Asean’s collective aspiration to a shared prosperity vision among their East Asian collective and that it was well received by the other members.
He said Malaysia wants to have some kind of development in South-east Asia that is comparable to the three North-east Asian states.
“All three of them did offer education and vocational training, especially Korea. The response was very good. They accept that as the more developed part of East Asia, they have a role to play in bringing up South-east Asia,” he said.
Dr Mahathir said Asean member states could pat themselves on the back for its success in its peaceable economic and geopolitical engagements with nations beyond their bloc.
The world’s oldest elected head of government, who commanded the attention of many leaders in meetings here over the past three days, said Asean has shown itself the most stable bloc in the world right now, more so than even the European Union, which he noted is wracked by infighting.