China’s Big South China Sea Gamble


As far as Malaysia is concerned, the presence of Chinese Coast Guard vessels may potentially encourage it to respond aggressively by posturing and deploying military assets, which may in turn bring the two maritime forces close enough to cause a naval incident. Malaysia has preferred ‘quiet diplomacy’ to prevent any escalation in its relationship with China. In 2013, it was reported that Chinese naval and maritime surveillance forces had made incursions in waters off East Malaysia, which were not publicized at the time. Further, Malaysia has worked to prevent the sort of anti-China nationalist sentiments were seen in Hanoi in 2014.

Beijing’s reclamation and construction activities on the islands/reefs in the South China Sea also have not gone unnoticed in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur, however, has chosen to remain quiet given that it too has undertaken reclamation on some of the features under its control from where it has attempted to project civilian or maritime presence into surrounding waters.

It is fair to say that if China does not order its ship to leave Malaysian waters, it may result in a diplomatic standoff with adverse repercussions. This may in turn result in a soured relationship and fading of the ‘charm offensive’ that has been very cleverly employed by China through a number of economic engagements with the Southeast Asian countries. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a Chinese initiative to finance infrastructure construction in the continent, may run into serious jeopardy if China does not stop its provocative behavior in the South China Sea. Likewise, Southeast Asian countries may shy away from the Chinese 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) which could be a major setback for the Chinese leadership,  which sees Southeast Asia as a springboard to launch the initiative.


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