New chance to settle South China Sea dispute

Azrul-Mohd-KhalibKUALA LUMPUR: An official of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) says the recent signing of trade agreements between Malaysia and China presents a new opportunity for Putrajaya to find a solution to the South China Sea dispute.

“Like it or not, China is here to stay,” said IDEAS External Relations Manager Azrul Mohd Khalib. “So the recent trade deals may put us in a better position to negotiate with it on the South China Sea dispute.

“Perhaps a soft power engagement will result in better progress on this issue.”

For several years, China has been in dispute with Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam over territories in the South China Sea. Relations between China and the four countries have been tested on numerous occasions owing to Beijing’s aggressive stance. It has increased the presence of its military warships in the disputed areas.

Azrul dismissed claims by critics that the government was selling the country to China, saying the latter should be treated as another business partner like any other country.

He said the government had the responsibility to negotiate the best possible deals for the country and safeguard the interests of the people. This responsibility, he added, would include maintaining its commitment to liberalising the economy and attracting foreign investments.

Commenting on allegations that the trade deals represented a means through which 1MDB would be bailed out, Azrul said it was too soon to make such an inference.

“More foreign direct investment is good for the country,” he said. “What is important is how we spend the money and that is where we need more accountability and transparency. It is imperative that these investments go into the economy and not into the pockets of a privileged few.”

He voiced concern over the signing of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project without an open tender, saying it would expose the country to the risk of paying for inferior products. There was also the risk of increased corruption, he added.

He noted that the ECRL construction contract would be awarded to China Communications Construction Co, a company that has been blacklisted by the World Bank for fraudulent and corrupt practices.

Last week, DAP publicity chief Tony Pua criticised the government for awarding the RM55 billion ECRL project to Chinese companies without an open tender.

Malaysian and Chinese companies signed 14 agreements worth RM144 billion during Prime Minister Najib Razak’s recent visit to China.