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Malaysia splits with Asean on China Sea threat

MALAYSIA differed with fellow Southeast Asian claimants in the South China Sea on the threat posed by China, dismissing concerns about patrols off its coast.

Malaysia is not worried about how often Chinese ships patrol the areas it claims in the waters, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in an interview in Brunei Darussalam on Wednesday.

Chinese Navy ships in March visited James Shoal off Malaysia, near where Royal Dutch Shell Plc. and Petroliam Nasional Bhd. have oil-and-gas operations.

“Just because you have enemies, doesn’t mean your enemies are my enemies,” Hishammuddin said on the sidelines of meetings with counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as well as the US, China and Japan.

The Chinese “can patrol every day, but if their intention is not to go to war” it is of less concern, he said. “I think we have enough level of trust that we will not be moved by day-to-day politics or emotions.”

Malaysia is one of six claimants to land features in the South China Sea, an area where competition for gas and fish has led to boats being rammed and survey cables cut. The Philippines and Vietnam reject China’s map of the sea, first published in the 1940s, as a basis for joint exploration.

Malaysia could consider collaborating on the development of oil and gas resources with China in the area, Hishammuddin said.

“Provided our friends in Asean know, those who have an interest in the region know, and if they want to object, I would like to know why?” Hishammuddin said. “If they’re just objecting for the sake of objecting, that doesn’t make sense.”

China National Offshore Oil Corp. estimates the South China Sea may hold about five times more undiscovered natural gas than the country’s current proved reserves, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

In June Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak called for parties to jointly develop resources to avoid conflict and prevent “extra-regional states” from becoming involved.

Najib cited a joint development zone in waters claimed by Thailand and Malaysia as a precedent that could be applied in the South China Sea.

China has agreed to talks on a code of conduct for the area, with discussions to begin in September.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is meeting Hishammuddin on Thursday, alongside defense ministers from Asean, China, Japan and South Korea, for the second Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus security summit.

Host Brunei, which claims some of the South China Sea, has suggested setting up a hotline to address disputes in the waters, said a senior US defense official who can’t be named according to government policy. That proposal has been under discussion for some months with Asean talking about other ways to avert conflict, such as no first use of force and holding exercises on avoiding collisions at sea, the official said.

Hagel will visit Vietnam next year at the invitation of Vietnam’s defense minister, according to the US official. Hagel also met his counterpart from Myanmar for talks in Brunei yesterday, the first meeting of top defense figures from the two countries in 20 years, the official said.


In Photo: “Just because you have enemies, doesn’t mean your enemies are my enemies,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s minister of defense, on the sidelines of meetings with counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as the US, China and Japan. (Bloomberg)


 

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