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Why Putrajaya prefers quiet diplomacy in dealing with China’s maritime claims

Free Malaysia Today logo Free Malaysia Today 14/5/2022 Hakimie Amrie Hisamudin
Thomas Benjamin Daniel says Malaysia is taking a ‘calculated approach’ in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea. (Reuters pic) © Provided by Free Malaysia Today Thomas Benjamin Daniel says Malaysia is taking a ‘calculated approach’ in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya is pursuing its “quiet diplomacy” in dealing with territorial disputes in the South China Sea to prevent harm to the country, according to a foreign policy expert.

Thomas Benjamin Daniel, an analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said Malaysia could not match the assets China could deploy in the South China Sea and this was why the government had refused to heed calls to be more aggressive.

“I believe that Malaysia takes a calculated approach to ensure that our actions and responses, while we continue to act within our rights, do not give China an excuse to escalate its presence and actions,” he told FMT.

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Beijing has invested substantially in improving its military capabilities over the last two decades, a key factor in China’s dominating role in the South China Sea. These include developing and deploying ships and aircraft that could operate further and longer.

Many countries in the Asia Pacific region, such as Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam, have begun to increase their military spending, but Daniel said he believed China’s military assets remained unrivalled.

Malaysia’s budget for defence is only a small portion of its national budget.

“This means that Malaysia needs to think carefully about the best way to allocate its limited resources in terms of the threats that we face and what we need in the short, medium and long terms,” he said.

“Additionally, defence spending is never cheap. This adds an extra impetus to ensure that wastage and leakage are effectively plugged.”

Daniel said China’s encroachment in the South China Sea had affected economic activities such as those of small-time fishermen from Sabah.

The Chinese maritime agency’s intrusion into the Kasawari gas field in Malaysian waters was also of economic concern, he said.

Recently, Papar MP Ahmad Hassan of Warisan called for “stronger action” from the government against China’s encroachment into Malaysian waters, particularly off Sabah.

Ahmad pointed out that China’s latest J-20 fighter jets had been found conducting regular patrols and drills over the South China Sea since early April.

He also noted that the Royal Malaysian Navy had reported 23 cases of intrusions in 2021 alone.

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