22 June 2015
Malaysia raised its level of response over a recent encounter with a Chinese vessel in disputed waters in South China Sea. Does this signify a new norm in Malaysian and other Southeast Asia claimants’ attitudes in engaging China?
In the latest episode in the ongoing territorial disputes in South China Sea, Malaysia will reportedly lodge a formal diplomatic protest with China over the presence of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel near Luconia Shoals, a series of islets and reefs well within Malaysia’s claimed 200-nm exclusive economic zone. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, would “raise the issue directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping”, a cabinet minister, Shahidan Kassim, was quoted as saying.
With China being Malaysia’s largest trading partner and Malaysia China’s largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur is mindful of this fruitful bilateral economic relationship over and above the territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. This is in stark contrast to the more assertive approaches of two other ASEAN claimants, Vietnam and the Philippines, in their territorial disputes with China. Therefore, the more vocal Malaysian reaction of late to perceived Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea seems to suggest an apparent departure from Kuala Lumpur’s previous low-key responses to China’s claims. There are five possible factors for this shift in Malaysian attitude.
… Oh Ei Sun is a Senior Fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. An earlier version appeared in Vietnam’s Than Nien newspaper and website.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 16/11/2015