Does Malaysia want to rock the boat in the South China Sea?

Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/2 22:03:40

Xisha Islands in the South China Sea Photo: VCG

In a note to the United Nations on Wednesday, the Malaysian mission said it "rejects China's claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the 'nine-dash line,'" according to Japan-based newspaper Nikkei Asian Review on Friday.

It wasn't the first time Malaysia made such comments about the South China Sea to the UN. In December 2019, Malaysia sent a note to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres saying Malaysia intended to claim sea area beyond the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from their baseline. Other regional countries, such as China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, have also made representations to the UN on the South China Sea, in a bid to reject claims by other countries and express their stances. Hence, Malaysia's move is not surprising and it will not have a significant impact on the South China Sea issues.

Malaysia's action is related to its policy changes in the South China Sea over recent years. Compared to other claimants, like Vietnam, Malaysia has kept a low profile and has adopted a relatively pragmatic approach to South China Sea disputes. Malaysia has attached more importance to oil exploration and all-round cooperation with China. Even though China remains Malaysia's largest trading partner, the latter's posture has changed to some extent.

Malaysia in recent years seems to have moved away from being a "low-profile pragmatist." It asserts rights over oil and gas exploration in the disputed waters with China. This has triggered China's anger. By submitting its note to the UN, Malaysia intends to express its willingness to maintain its maritime rights and interests in the region.

Furthermore, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on July 13 that China's maritime claims in the South China Sea were "completely unlawful," and the US is trying to form a global anti-China coalition. Malaysia sent the note to the UN just days after Pompeo's statement on China's claims in the South China Sea. It is evident that Malaysia is trying to take advantage of the current tensions between China and the US over the South China Sea to seek more benefits. 

The US has completely discarded neutrality over the South China Sea issue. It backs Southeast Asian countries in their disputes with China in the region. This will urge Southeast Asian countries to take more offensive measures against China over the South China Sea disputes and they seek to gain more benefits from it. As a response, China has to make more diplomatic efforts to deal with its relations with these regional countries. 

With tensions between China and the US in the South China Sea escalating, these claimants are clearly aware that military conflicts between the two giants in the South China Sea would pose a huge threat to their own security. Southeast Asian countries will be reluctant to see such a consequence. As a response, they would try to make efforts to cool down the China-US tensions in the region and resist making too many offensive and radical actions toward China under the instigation of the US.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Lu Yuanzhi based on an interview with Ge Hongliang, deputy director with the College of ASEAN Studies at Guangxi University for Nationalities and a senior research fellow at the Charhar Institute.


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