Storms in the South China Sea?


In his speech, Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo has said that he would love Asean to get closer to India, referring to the prospects of exploiting and sharing the marine resources of the wider region equitably – a rich source of income for many littoral countries. — AFP photo

EVERY individual member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) has a right to protect and promote its own interests.

Malaysia is no exception.

Many Southeast Asian countries had established trading relations before the formation of Asean, not only with one another, but with big economies outside like China, USA, Europe, China and countries in the South Pacific.

Much attention has been given to this part of Asia recently, partly because there is a rivalry between big powers in terms of hegemony over the South China Sea.

All eyes are on the rich marine and mineral resources believed to be awaiting exploitation; the countries owning such wealth will be powerful indeed and will wield considerable influence in the world.

The sea, as we all know (with a few exceptions!), is ‘international territory’. Countries can claim a certain space surrounding their lands, but the open ocean is open to all.

It is interesting to note the speech made by the Indonesian President, Jokowi Widodo. He said he would love Asean to get closer to India, referring to the prospects of exploiting and sharing the marine resources of the wider region equitably – a rich source of income for many littoral countries.

This aspect of economic development has been largely neglected by those countries that paid more attention to developing on shore and exploiting forest products.

Asean would be wise to work with India – that is the message from Indonesia.

Malaysia should not miss out this chance to be buddy with India as one of the key players, especially its role in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD).

It will be interesting to follow what is happening at the G20 Summit in India in terms of India’s role in Asean. Perhaps, Indian leaders may be able to convince the Junta leaders in Myanmar to help implement the 5-Plan if Asean leaders have not been able to convince the Junta to have a closer look at the Plan and give it a try.

Meanwhile, the countries in the Asean grouping will find immediate trade and commerce agreements that are crucial for quick recovery from the damage done by Covid-19. For this reason, if not for many others as well, it is necessary to sustain peace and tranquillity in that region.

That is surely in everybody’s interest!

Malaysia is part of this region; geography and history are non-negotiable factors. So whatever we do or how we behave is crucial for our own survival.

Harm your neighbour, harm yourself!

When we are against giving a seat to the leader of the Myanmar Junta at a major meeting of Asean, we are sending the message that Asean, as a group, does not approve of a takeover of power by armed forces in any of its member countries.

Although Malaysians have never experienced the overthrow of an elected government by the army – touch wood! – we have had the bitter taste of a government formed by bits of paper called the ‘Statutory Declarations’ (SD).

It is a matter of principle that we support the lawfully-elected government of Myanmar, in principle.

At the same time, Malaysia does not mind if another country in Asean were to establish contacts with the de facto rulers of Myanmar. The more member countries talk to the junta leaders the better, so long as the aim is to find a solution to the violations of human rights in that country.

In Jakarta this week, I think Malaysia sent an appropriate signal to the other members of Asean and to the world at large. It is important to hold together at all times, directly or indirectly.

We do not appreciate the ‘fantasy map’ that China has recently presented to the world. All the littoral nations, of which Malaysia is one, reject this map, and we are on a firm legal ground.

We must declare this region a Zone of Peace and Neutrality (ZOPAN).

There can be no such zone if two members of Asean were to fight each other, or if big powers try to establish hegemony in the South China Sea, kicking aside the littoral countries’ right to their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). And, just to remind you, Malaysia is one of these littoral states.

Somebody claiming rights over your territory is a serious matter indeed. All parties must sit down quietly to find ways and means to solve the dispute. That is one way by which one keeps company and membership for a long time.


Our Prime Minister mentioned almost in passing Malaysia’s objection to China’s map, but he seemed to downplay this problem and leave the matter to be sorted out by diplomats.

That does not mean that the claim by China of our territorial waters is not serious. We are NOT part of China. We want good relations with everyone, but we do not want to be bullied by an overbearing neighbour.

There are many other considerations in terms of trade and people-to-people relations to take account of. It is wise to deal with this ‘claim’ quietly, just like a ‘claim’ by the Republic of the Philippines was settled a few years ago.

That is a precedent that China, as a member of world citizenry, cannot ignore for any length of time.