Admiral Cheng Ho’s new armada?


C_PC0012439IF and when a foreign fishing boat is found in our territorial waters, that’s a trespass. Sometimes fishing boats do go astray into the waters of another country inadvertently, but that is not what we are concerned with here.

We are concerned when a flotilla of 100 vessels blatantly harvests our marine  resources. That’s daylight robbery on the high seas. They plunder our property and flout our sovereign rights as well.

And it seems that we are helpless to do anything about the incident, apparently because the ships are allegedly China-registered. China is a big country, economically and militarily powerful, an important trading partner – its billionaires have invested a lot of money in our economy; our hydropower dams were built by them, and some of our roads. Is that a reason to allow ourselves to be blackmailed? Do we humbly accept the fact that might is right?

In fact, it is better to deal with a country with financial interests in our country rather than with another without financial or trade ties. A country with stakes in our economy should think carefully about the safety of its investments in the event of a political quarrel – a quarrel over common boundaries for instance, and that includes the definition of economic boundaries at sea. The stakes are so great that I dread to think what could or would happen to us all if there was a shooting war between China and Malaysia. It won’t come to that – touch wood!

How naive can we be and how daft are we to be seen by other nations as lacking the power and the will to fight, at least on paper, for our sovereign rights. Are we a bunch of ‘Hari Merdeka Patriots’?

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim has been telling us about the recent maritime incursions but we are not told how the authorities have gone about handling the problem. There is no need for ordinary citizens at this stage to be told about what Malaysia and China have discussed behind closed doors and in diplomatic language, but the public would like to be assured that at least China’s ambassador in KL has been called to Wisma Putra for a polite ticking off or had been handed a nicely written protest note. We are in the dark over all this stuff.

In Sarawak’s case, the Luconia Shoals are part of Sarawak and therefore of Malaysia. The waters around Luconia, until the boundary meets international waters, are our heritage. Any foreigner fishing inside the limit is a trespasser and must be dealt with according to law.

If those boats are proven to be registered with China’s maritime agency, then the appropriate thing for our federal government to do is to deal with China directly, after those boats have been detained in our ports. Why the silence? The inaction? Tell us.

What good is it just to watch an armada enter our waters? Are we that helpless?  Our navy, our maritime agency, our air force, our representatives in the United Nations and in the capital of China – what are they doing? Okay, I’m prepared to believe that they are ‘taking steps’, but the public has every right to know what these steps are.

From foreign news sources I read that there were other boats in the company of the 100 fishing boats, accompanying the fishing fleet. Since when do peaceful fishermen need an escort of, presumably armed, government-owned boats, to accompany them? If they were fishing inside their own territorial waters, was there the necessity to protect them except against attacks from the pirates? They were there to protect their own fishing fleet in someone else’s waters. That’s why.

They were there to stake a claim to the shoals, Beting Patinggi Ali, as part of China. Dr Mahathir once told an SPU meeting in Kuching, before he became the Prime Minister of Malaysia, that China had laid a claim to one of our sandbar/islands off Miri/Bintulu. This was almost 40 years ago. Nothing new. We have not been assertive enough of our rights ever since. We should have spoken up the moment we heard of any spurious claims to our territory but we did not raise our little finger, until now.

In the latest incident, middle of last month, did our navy or the relevant agencies board any of the boats and check what the boats were carrying at our pangkalan or pendai (landing place)? If they had done so, they might have found more than  fishing nets on board. Our Bombardier aircraft, which had flown over the shoals could not identify much, other than ‘vessels equipped with fishing gear and men dressed like fishermen’. We have sent our marine patrol boats to the area, we are told. Our navy vessels are there too. What did they find, and what did they do?

Tell us as soon as possible. Or are we waiting for the foreign media to write about the incursion and blame the local media for being behind the times? Why don’t the authorities invite representatives of our news media to go to the area? Our news men and ladies are good at catching fish as well as at fishing out news. Many have not seen the Beting Patinggi Ali even from the air.

As discerning readers of this column may have noticed, I’m actually angling for an invitation to fly over the Beting …

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected].