SOUTH CHINA SEA tensions have seen China brush aside the claims of smaller nations surrounding the contested region in pursuit of political, economic and military dominance. However, this may backfire, as Malaysia join Vietnam in stepping up its resistance.
Malaysia defied China with a damning statement calling Beijing’s Nine-Dash Line waters claim “ridiculous.” Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said: “For China to claim that the whole of South China Sea belongs to China, I think that is ridiculous.” The ‘Nine-Dash Line’ serves as a demarcation for waters claimed by China.
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The South China Sea is hotly contested because of its lucrative shipping lanes, capacity for military strategic advantages and wealth of natural resources such as oil and minerals.
At the centre of this disagreement are various island clusters such as the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands. China has had particularly tense relations with Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the region.
Malaysia’s stern comments come as the country follows the Philippines and more recently Vietnam, in taking a stand against China’s relentless militarisation and encroachment of contested regions in the South China Sea.
The government in Kuala Lumpur has submitted a document to the UN Commission, seeking to establish the outer limits of Malaysia’s waters ownership beyond the 200 nautical mile limit.
Beijing responded by accusing Kuala Lumpur of infringing on its sovereignty and violating international rules, and urged the UN not to review the submission.
Malaysia has followed a similar route that the Philippines took to thwart Chinese ships and oil vessels from dominating its waters.
In 2016, the Philippines won a case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating China’s claims to almost the entire stretch of sea. China does not recognise the ruling.
The tribunal in The Hague found that China had violated sovereign Filipino rights under the United Nations Convention on Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS).
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Meanwhile, Vietnam has taken a resolute stand against Beijing after a three month long standoff between a Chinese oil vessel and Vietnamese Navy.
The vessel only left Vietnam’s economic exclusion zone in October, but since then Hanoi has bolstered its defensive capabilities, even getting help from the US.
Washington agreed in November to give Vietnam a coastal patrol cutter in an effort to bolster Hanoi’s ability to thwart Chinese encroachment.
This came despite contradiciting Vietnam’s Three Noes’ foreign policy – no alliances, no bases, and no working with a second country against a third.
China, the Philippines and Vietnam and Malaysia all have claims over the Spratly Islands, located in the central region of the South China Sea.
But Beijing has engulfed parts of the cluster with huge island fortresses.
A leaked set of photos given to a Filipino newspaper showed just how elaborate the developments on military bases have been.
Some photographs showed cargo ships and supply vessels, which the newspaper said appeared to be delivering construction materials to the China-controlled islands.
Others show runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs.