It is widely accepted that the current South China Sea territorial and maritime conflict can escalate into confrontation and a war. Over the last few decades the protracted conflict saw the more adventurous nations like China and Vietnam positioned their troops and built structures in several of islands they claimed. War of words became more heated over the last few months. Our country has maintained a low profile approach preferring a soft diplomacy or 'amicable way' to handle problems. It is time for Malaysia to be more assertive in this South China Sea conflict.
The Reuter report on 25 Dec 17 stated that China has 'reasonably expanded its islands', and also reportedly said, 'China has enhanced its military presence there…. with large radar'. Any major power, be it US or China, building up bases in ASEAN region is an absolute no, no. In the event of a war where nuclear weapons are employed, hundreds of million lives in South East Asia will perish. In this case, the path of the monsoon wind will cause widespread nuclear particles fallout and total destruction to our land.
It is a different story if claimants to the uninhabited islands and atolls send their troops with small arms to occupy or even build structures. Building up the area into a huge military base with offensive capability is a definite no. Even for territorial occupation, the basic international convention, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), has to be abided.
Unfortunately for ASEAN countries, superpowers rivalry to exert hegemony has caused nations to be more aligned to one than the other. Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan (Patriots) applaud our government's stand to stay neutral in this geopolitical conflict. Otherwise the Asean's declaration of ZOPFAN (Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality) in 1971 where Malaysia played a prominent role, risked being trashed. Critics to our nation's passive stand regarding China's aggressive development in the Spratly region pointed to our country's close dependence on China's funding and investment. While this may be so, Patriots have our views and it is beyond the scope here to make our argument to caution against so-called 'foreign investment'.
At the very least, our country should not adopt a soft diplomacy approach to China's Nine-Dash Line maritime territorial claim, which is based on history dated back to the Han dynasty. This is absurd, as it will encroach very close to our 12-mile territorial water. UNCLOS allows for 200 miles EEZ beyond our shore. It is imperative for Malaysia to be more assertive as our low profiling can be construed as tacit approval to China's aggressive stance.
Being neutral to superpowers contention in this territorial and maritime conflict, our country is suitable, and Patriots will fully support Malaysia to play a leading role to hasten all efforts to bring all claimant countries to the negotiating table. In the meantime, we support our government to take the following actions:
- Besides the islands that are already occupied and patrolled by our troops (Layang-Layang, Ubi, Mantanani, Siput, Peninjau, Laya, Semarang Barat Besar, and Semarang Barat Kecil), more permanent features need be constructed on atolls and reefs, which are within and beyond the 200 miles from our shore. Numerous of such atolls may appear during low tide. Structures constructed will strengthen our case in future tribunals.
- More allocation for our troops, in particular the RMN, to position and patrol our claimed territories. More frequent military exercise in the area involving our quick reaction force. The presence of our Navy will give protection to our off-shore fishing activities. Furthermore, it gives enhancement to the tourism activities in the region of Layang-Layang.
- Exert our sovereignty over our claimed areas with our military presence. This has potential to secure our economic life line in the future.
The role of our Armed Forces in this South China Sea conflict is very important. Patriots is with and for our government to give full support to our Armed Forces. We are also for our government to play a more assertive diplomatic role. Our country's territorial, maritime, and economic interest is of utmost importance.