KOTA KINABALU, July 16 — Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein must more assertively defend Malaysia’s sovereignty against continued Chinese encroachment, said predecessor Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.

Anifah also criticised Hishamuddin’s claim on July 15 that there has been no further encroachment in the South China Sea and said the latter was either “in denial or ignorant of the facts”.

“I am appalled by the minister’s statement. He is either in denial or ignorant of the fact. Worst, he is playing politics with Malaysia’s maritime and strategic interests.

“It was only in April that a flotilla of Chinese enforcement vessels was sighted accompanying a Chinese survey vessel within Malaysia maritime areas.

“Further, I was reliably informed that Chinese coast guard vessels were sighted in the vicinity of Beting Patinggi Ali in May, June and July,” he said.

Yesterday, Hishammuddin, in reply to the National Audit Department’s report stating that Chinese ships had encroached into Malaysian waters 89 times between 2016 and 2019, said that Chinese ships which used to encroach into Malaysian waters no longer did so and claimed he fixed the problem through bilateral ties.

The audit also revealed that the Chinese ships often remained in Malaysian waters even after being turned away by the Malaysian navy.

In his statement today, Anifah said that Hishammuddin should take a stronger stance in defending Malaysia’s sovereignty.

“As a country that legitimately owns maritime areas in the South China Sea, the Government should not be hesitant to categorically state its objection to any unauthorised activities by foreign vessels within its maritime areas.

“If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs finds it appropriate to issue a statement on June 25 and July 12 on the drone and missile attacks towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, surely it would not be too much to expect the ministry to at least summon the ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to register Malaysia’s displeasure on the unauthorised activities by the Chinese coast guard vessels within Malaysia’s maritime areas in the South China Sea,” he said.

Anifah, who was foreign minister for nine years up to 2018, said that Malaysia has never recognised China’s claims over its maritime areas in the South China Sea and the government must uphold the position to ensure Malaysia’s maritime and strategic interests are not jeopardised.

“Being firm in safeguarding, protecting and promoting Malaysia’s maritime and strategic interests does not mean we need to be confrontational. What we need to do is to ensure full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, and uphold the supremacy of the rule of law in accordance with international law and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“As I have stated many times, we must not be indecisive in defending our rights and interests, and a consistent principled position would stand us in good stead for the long term,” he said.