PETALING JAYA: Malaysia would be well advised to refrain from rushing to repair defence ties with China in the wake of a recent naval standoff, according to an academic.
James M Dorsey, a fellow at Singapore’s S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said it was worth waiting to see what position the incoming US government would take.
He told FMT there was little need to feel pressured to restore ties quickly.
It was reported yesterday the Royal Malaysian Navy and China Coast Guard had engaged in a standoff 44 nautical miles from Sarawak and that this was because a Chinese vessel had strayed too close to a hydrocarbon drilling rig.
“I think if you’re a Malaysian policy maker, you should be keeping your options open and biding your time,” Dorsey said.
“We will only know after Jan 20 what the new US administration’s policy towards China and Asia is going to be.”
He said an improved commitment to Asia from the US would help dictate Malaysia’s strategy in the South China Sea dispute.
“Once you know what the posture is going to be from a power like the US, that, to a degree, sets parameters for what you think you can and cannot do.”
Dorsey added that Malaysia would be wise to avoid a militarised conflict, given China’s comparative might.
Lam Choong Wah, formerly of the Research for Social Advancement, said policy makers should not allow the pursuit of defence ties to influence their approach to the dispute even if the relationship was an important one.
“We should keep in mind that expanding military cooperation with China should not come at the expense of our sovereignty.”
He said there should be a strong focus on strengthening ties with fellow Asean countries, many of which were also embroiled in the South China Sea dispute.
“Multilateralism and an Asean-centric policy will benefit Malaysia when it comes to dealing with superpowers with regard to regional affairs,” he said.