South China Sea: China not beyond compromise

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KUALA LUMPUR: An independent defence and strategy analyst has voiced disagreement with those calling on Putrajaya to assume a confrontational stance in trying to resolve the South China Sea dispute with Beijing.

Lam Choong Wah, said Malaysia’s best option was to negotiate with China.

“Some people have said that because China is becoming more aggressive, we too have to be more aggressive or we should get a western superpower to back us,” he said in an interview with FMT.

“But I think confrontation is a bad idea. For one, China’s south sea fleet alone is bigger and more advanced than all the navies of Southeast Asian countries.”

Furthermore, he said, there was no guarantee that any western power would help Malaysia should a war erupt although some western governments had said they were keen to help stabilise the region.

Lam acknowledged that China was showing some aggression through rapid militarisation in the South China Sea, but he said Beijing would still want to avoid any form of confrontation for fear of economic sanctions.

He also said history had shown that China was willing to forgo land in exchange for peace. He gave the examples of China giving North Korea “majority control” of Mount Baekdu and her ceding of nearly 2,000 square kilometres of land to Pakistan in 1963.

“Even if you look at China’s claim to the South China Sea according to the nine-dash line, the claim is actually based on an eleven-dash line,” he said. “But it became a nine-dash line after Beijing ceded Bailongwei island to Vietnam, effectively removing two lines.”

China claims nearly the entire South China Sea, according to the nine-dash line surrounding the sea, drawn up by its government in 1947.

Lam said he believed Beijing wouldn’t be opposed to giving up land in the South China Sea, including those in the Spratly Islands, though it would come at a price.

“I think China is now trying to grab as many bargaining chips as it can and later use these to negotiate with countries like Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines.”

He also said Malaysia had a weak legal basis for its claim on the Spratry Islands and that made negotiating with Beijing the best way forward for Putrajaya.

Recently, The Guardian reported that during the first two months of 2017, three Chinese ships patrolled the Luconia Shoals, an area that is 140km from Sarawak and more than 1,600km from mainland China.

There have been reports in the past few years of Chinese coastguard vessels intruding into Malaysian waters around the shoals and chasing away Malaysian fishermen.

Malaysia registered diplomatic protests with China over these incidents.

China ships patrol Malaysian territory despite better ties