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Malaysia’s Interests in the South China Sea
08 Oct 2020

On 8 October 2020, the Malaysia Programme at RSIS held a webinar titled “Malaysia’s Interests in the South China Sea”. The expert panel gave participants an overview of Malaysia’s approach on recent developments in the South China Sea (SCS), including its strategic and economic interests and its policies towards the key players, viz. China and other claimants, and the US and its allies. One of the panellists pointed out that Malaysia, unlike Vietnam and the Philippines, had to deal with serious challenges from China in the SCS only fairly recently (from 2013).

The webinar further delved into Malaysia’s economic interests in the SCS, namely securing the hydrocarbon deposits and fish stocks. Another fundamental economic issue of interest to Malaysia was for the SCS to be a sea of cooperation rather than a sea of conflict in the broader context of regional peace and stability. As a key commercial waterway connecting continents and supporting more than one-third of global trading and shipping activities annually, the SCS is a critical economic lifeline contributing to Malaysia’s vitality as a maritime trading nation with continental roots.

The initial discussion ended with a reminder to understand the SCS issue in the historical context as well as against global geopolitical developments. It was also noted that political developments in Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, and other ASEAN capitals would continue to shape the geopolitical outlook of the SCS issue.

The ensuing question-and-answer session touched on federal-state relations, the role of political elites in shaping discourse, Malaysia’s military capabilities in safeguarding its claims in the SCS, and its reliance on “quiet diplomacy” in dealing with Chinese incursions in the waters Malaysia claims. The webinar concluded on the observation that Malaysia’s policy towards the SCS is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. China is an increasingly important economic partner of Malaysia, which would try its best to avoid any confrontations in the SCS.  Malaysia would instead continue to conduct “lawfare” to protect its legal claims and strengthen its relations with key players like the US and its allies.

Catch it here on the RSISVideoCast YouTube channel:

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