Don’t keep mum on South China Sea issue, former foreign minister cautions PM

Anifah urged the prime minister to consider the establishment of a special entity to handle Malaysia’s maritime issues. — Bernama pic
Anifah urged the prime minister to consider the establishment of a special entity to handle Malaysia’s maritime issues. — Bernama pic

KUALA LUMPUR, April 23 — Malaysia needs to respond to activities undertaken by a Chinese survey vessel within Malaysian waters, urged former foreign minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman in a letter to Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

Saying that this is not the first time such an “intrusion” has occurred, Anifah, who was the foreign minister from 2009 to 2018, said that safeguarding, protecting and promoting Malaysia’s strategic interests must be the guiding principle.

He added this must trump all other considerations in the issue and that “a consistent and principle stance is the best way to deal with China’s behaviour in the South China Sea”.

“In this regard, I think it is appropriate for the government to take appropriate action in relation to the survey activities carried out by Chinese vessels within Malaysia’s maritime borders.

“Smaller MMEA (Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency) and TLDM (Royal Malaysian Navy) vessels may not be able to block Chinese vessels but at least we express our desire not to allow Chinese vessels to do so within Malaysia’s maritime borders.

“At the same time, we can examine and understand the extent to which China will respond to Malaysia. Close surveillance and shadowing should also be carried out.

“The government, through the foreign minister, should have expressed concern over the presence of Chinese vessels in Malaysian maritime areas.

“This statement can be followed by a note of diplomatic objections to China. These actions will ensure that the country’s strategic interests are not compromised,” he said in the letter which was made available to Malay Mail.

Anifah said Malaysia must not be indecisive when defending national rights and interests in accordance with international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as such inaction may be construed as acquiescence by interested parties and would be detrimental to the country’s strategic interests.

He gave an example in 2012, when a China’s Coast Guard vessel interrupted seismic survey activities by Petronas contractors. However, the Chinese ship did not take such drastic action as ramming and cramming as it did between China and Vietnam and China with the Philippines.

“Malaysia has protested China’s actions and I, as foreign minister at the time, made a statement to the media and raised Malaysia’s dissatisfaction with China’s behaviour with my Chinese counterpart,” he said, reminding that Muhyiddin knew about it at the time as he was deputy prime minister until 2016.

Anifah also urged the prime minister to consider the establishment of a special entity to handle Malaysia’s maritime issues including maritime border restrictions with neighbouring countries, the South China Sea issue, 'maritime economic' and the blue economy.

“I had raised this issue before but it was not possible to realise after the change in government in 2018. I believe the establishment of this special entity will enable maritime issues to be comprehensive, integrated and coordinated. This special entity should report directly to the prime minister, and thus, minimise political deliberations at the minister and ministry levels,” he said.

Last week, Haiyang Dizhi 8, a Chinese government research ship, was spotted conducting a survey close to an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas, months after it undertook a similar patrol off Vietnam.

According to international reports, the area is near waters claimed by both Vietnam and Malaysia as well by China, through the latter’s sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea within its U-shaped ‘nine-dash line’ is not recognised by its neighbours and has been declared illegal by an international tribunal.

China has denied reports of a standoff, saying that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 is conducting normal activities.

Related Articles