Hishammuddin: Code of conduct best way to govern competing claims in South China Sea

SINGAPORE: Malaysia is convinced that a code of conduct (COC) is the best way to govern the competing claims to the waters and has urged that consultations be intensified, says Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

He said this was to ensure the expeditious establishment of an effective COC which would be the key instrument in ensuring proper management of vital sea lanes, upon which so much depended.

He also warned the South China Sea issue could escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of all time, urging claimant parties to avoid undertaking action which could cause tension or ill-will.

Describing it as the ‘elephant in the room’, Hishammuddin said: “The South China Sea issue is an old problem.

“It involves the dignity and ‘face’ of the nations involved. If we are not careful, it could certainly escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time, if not history.”

The minister said this in his address at the 14th Asia Security Summit IISS Shangri-La Dialogue – 3rd Plenary Session entitled Preventing Conflict Escalation here yesterday.

According to him, Malaysia is more than aware of what is at stake in the South China Sea.

“That is why we have consistently advocated that diplomacy take precedence in approaching the dispute.

“As appropriately stated by Indonesian Defence Minister General (Rtd) Ryamizard Ryacudu in the previous session, Asean’s mechanisms and practices promote peaceful dialogue.

“Any peaceful resolution must be acceptable to all nations involved and that Asean should remain the principal, indeed the only forum for Southeast Asian nations to pursue a resolution,” he said.

Saying that dialogue and close cooperation between nations was vital, Hishammuddin noted there were many examples where civil negotiations on disputed areas were solved without the need for military intervention.

He pointed out the dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia over the islands of Sipadan and Ligitan which were settled amicably in the International Court of Justice.

Also, he said, the disagreement between Malaysia and Singapore over Pedra Branca took a similar path, showing that diplomacy and adherence to internationally accepted law could and must prevail.

At the same time, Hishammuddin said: “We must be vigilant against sudden or unexpected incidents in the waters. — Bernama

“As I have consistently pointed out, inflamed rhetoric and mutual recrimination will not do any country any good.

“This issue requires a solution driven by mutual respect and trust. It will take time, but I am confident with patience, collective wisdom and a lot of courage, we will find a way forward.”

Having said that, Hishammuddin said, countries were of course, free to act as they saw fit within their sovereign areas, but they must also be aware of the repercussions and implications of their behavior.

“We have an obligation to maintain peace and stability, not just for us in the present day, but for generations to come,” he added. — Bernama

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