KUALA LUMPUR, 5th May – Malaysia should have the courage to change its orientation with China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and not to choose the path of negotiations.
Making the strong call, one of University Malaya’s top don Collins Chong Yew Keat urged Malaysia to be firm on its enshrined rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to continue the country’s oil, gas and other marine life exploration.
“By consenting to negotiations with Beijing, it will make us look even weaker with our already sorry state of deterrence capacity and our economic vulnerability, with potential economic blackmail that will further tie our hands.
“The constant harping and justification on the importance of RM170 billion worth of investment assurance is not an excuse to further let our national pride, survival and sovereignty to be trampled, gambled and traded with said Chong, who is an analyst on foreign affairs, strategy, security, higher education and strategic management.
His comments come in the wake of increased patrols by Chinese coast guard vessels for the past month near Petronas Carigali’s Kasawari gas development about 200km north off Bintulu, Sarawak which was pushing constant pressure, intimidation, and fear into Malaysia.
Kasawari Standoff: China’s engagement in grey area
Chong said that the Kasawari field held an estimated three trillion cubic feet of gas reserves and Petronas was expected to start production this year.
In May 2020, Chinese and Malaysian vessels were involved in a standoff over West Capella – a Panamanian-flagged drillship hired by Petronas – to explore oil and gas off Bintulu.
The standoff eased after United States and Australian warships reportedly stepped-up patrols in the area.
Chong warned that the same tactic had been used by China, to a bigger extent in the Philippines, from the military laser incident earlier this year, to downright chasing off Filipino fishermen out of their rightful territories to fish.
“The Malaysian economy is hugely reliant on its oil and gas assets, and the South China Sea is a critical piece to our economic survival.
“Even though it is well within our territorial rights under UNCLOS to explore and assert our rights to cultivate resources in those areas, we have been living under years of constant fear of a looming, prying eyes and coercive actions of Beijing in these waters.
“China has been upping the coercive game using grey zone tactics and intimidation through sheer show of force and hard power postures.
“The Chinese Coast Guard has been at the forefront, and naval vessels have for years been exerting their presence and openly challenging our territorial rights in our exploration and fishing activities,” said Chong.
He added that the West Capella incident served as an urgent wake up call, but still sadly reflected Malaysia’s fearful and ‘kowtowing’ stance out of the so-called bigger economic returns from China’s pandering moves of quiet dialogue and backdoor diplomacy.
“Countless incursions into our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the grey zone intimidation tactics have been met with subdued responses, which only reflects our sorry and hapless response option.
“Beijing is happy to exploit and to further increase its bargaining chip. “Beijing is cognisant of its ingrained grip on the country and the region in economic and trade terms and will simply wield bigger sticks to gain its regional objective.
“Its divide and conquer strategy has paid off, and that it will need the region and Asean to continue staying true to its past policy of neutrality, to deter any credible Western overtures and military presence,” Chong said.
AUKUS: Beijing’s bullet to divide and rule
However, Chong added that China’s agenda had been derailed extensively with the tri-lateral Australia, United Kingdom, and United States (AUKUS) pact and renewed presence in the Philippines.
“China has been trying to use the same divide and conquer strategy on Europe. It has worked recently with French President Emmanuel Macron’s seemingly friendly Beijing overtures and continuous grip on Europe’s external economic reliance.
“For Malaysia, Beijing will be meticulous not to overly push the country to fall under Washington’s orbit with outright hard power push but would continue to exert its South China Sea ambition with a combination of past salami-slicing tactics and a new open swarming method,” said Chong.
He recalled how the argument that Malaysia should avoid repeating Australia’s mistakes under its former Prime Minister Scott Morrison of antagonising China, rang further bells on Malaysia’s state of total fear and trap with regards to dealing with China.
“The constant fear of being the victim of China’s economic retaliation and blackmailing is nothing substantively different from us still being under the neo-colonialism threat and trap.
“The state of the economy and trade spectrum in the region, coupled with the region’s historical development and design of economic and political upbringing, have been well learned and seized upon by China,” he said.
Chong opinied that Beijing was fully aware of the region’s trap and yearning for a capital intensive and trade oriented economic setting, with little to no appetite for the West’s clarion call of value-based and strings-attached economic support and development.
Beijing, he said, was more than happy to extend its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) strategies over the region, flooding it with cheap and addictive capital, promises of investment and key infrastructure support and aid.
“Beijing elites realise that these will further serve their own geostrategic importance and to keep the region under its orbit of economic dependence.
“It continues to capitalise on openings left by the West to wield its charm offensive in the global south through a wide array of measures,” Chong said.
Beijing Debt Trap strategy
He further warned that the negative fallout of the debt trap from Beijing’s debt diplomacy had caught nations in a medium-term quandary and exposed the countries’ strategic assets to be under Beijing’s effective control and influence in eventual terms after failing to commit to the debt repayment.
“It will also render the West’s economic and soft power overtures to be ineffective, seizing upon the region’s historical dynamics of little appetite for the overarching principles and value-based economic order, and for the priority of internal political and regime survival.
“Beijing is using its regional brotherhood and spirit of neighbourhood cohesiveness to repel external overtures and to bolster regional togetherness through this array of soft power and capital support and playing the victim card. “Concurrent to its approach, is the method of walking with extended hands to shake but with a big stick behind the back to ensure regional grip and compliance,” Chong said.
Since 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched three strategic initiatives aimed at reorienting the architecture of global governance and security structure in halting the Western momentum.
As Beijing canvasses for international support for two of the major initiatives, the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, those countries signing up to become friends of China’s vision also become debtors to Chinese creditors.
Chong spoke how Xi proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI) at the Boao Forum for Asia annual conference on April 21, 2022.
“The GSI is the latest manifestation of China’s international aim to challenge the Western-led global governance system, to delegitimise the US’ role in Asia and the Indo-Pacific, and to advocate for a China-centric approach in using the Asian way of security governance.
“While Beijing has called out the US-led containment measures and Washington’s steadfast upholding of the international law as being hypocritical and biased, by pointing out the bloc mentality and Cold War mindset approach of the West, its own measures through the GSI and other soft power sway and hard power intimidation have been conveniently by passed.
“The GSI has also caused fear and caution in the region, together with other increased hard power postures and aggressive grey zone tactics,” he said.
China’s own hypocrisy, Chong added, was laid bare in the GSI core tenets as opposed to its own actions on the ground.
He outlined how the GSI was encapsulated in “six commitments”: (i) pursuing common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security; (ii) respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; (iii) abiding by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter; (iv) taking the legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously; (v) peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation; and (vi) maintaining security in both traditional and non-traditional domains.
“Beijing’s past and current actions in the region, over the South China Sea and beyond, have all made a mockery of these so-called six commitments.
“The ‘six commitments’ of the GSI are embedded in China’s national and international security architecture, consolidating the basic tenets of modern China’s foreign policy, as codified in the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference.
“However, its actions on disregarding the rule of law and the norms as set in international trade practices and the law of the sea are in direct opposition of the values espoused in this initiative.
“The GSI replays the terms ‘common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security’ from the New Asian Security Concept,” said Chong.
He added that it also included the indivisible security concept, which worked on the need for legitimate security concerns of all countries seriously. “The workings of this indivisible security approach are based on the mantra that the pursuit of one’s security should not be at the expense of others’ security. “Again, realities and happenings on the ground which have created a ripple-fear and insecurity of others as a direct implication of Beijing’s militarisation and intimidation have run contrary to these affiliations,” he said.
He added that the GSI, together with the BRI and the Global Development Initiative (GDI), were all a continuation of Beijing’s narrative-shaking intent in portraying the country to be worthy and credible in shaping a new leadership discourse and direction and in replacing the old Western order.
“It frames China as a responsible, trusted and credible global player that will provide more effective global leadership and support to the victims of the past and current unfair Western model and hegemony.
“If China plays by the rules and rises peacefully, the extent of the current security dilemma and dangerous conflict setting will not be seen,” said Chong.
India: Another Asian rising power, but stark contrast to China
India, he added, was an inevitable rising power too, but it did not act like China.
India, he said, also suffered from past humiliation, but it remained a responsible global power and did not escalate tensions or ignore the international law or to intimidate other countries with grey zone tactics and coercion.
India, Chong added, also suffered from a security vulnerability setting with China and Pakistan, but remained responsible in respecting the norms.
“The Cold War mentality has always been used as a pretext in not wanting Malaysia or the region to fall into this trap, and being brainwashed by propaganda that this mentality is polarizing and dangerous.
“Have actual analyses been done on the efficacy of our neutrality in not wanting to take up a stance for norms and values, and whether a bloc mentality is really the worst evil or outcome in safeguarding state or regional survival and security?
“How can we guarantee that being neutral will ensure our security and that Beijing somehow will show restraint to us in a real time conflict just because of us being neutral?
“When a real conflict or a hot war breaks out, there is no consideration of neutrality. There are only urgent permanent interests which will decide whether Beijing will make the ultimate move.
“We are being hypocritical by thinking that being neutral is the best and safest bet, and that taking sides is worsening the situation,” Chong said.
Neo Cold War: The neutral train does not last long
He warned that wars and conflicts were never solved or won by being neutral.
“Both the Cold War and the two great wars have been won by the alliance and coming together of players who are championing the ultimate values of freedom, human rights and democracy.
“They are not gained or won just by standing on the sidelines and ignoring the global moral responsibility of taking a principled and right stance of resolutely defending freedom and in fighting aggression, authoritarianism and oppression,” said Chong.
Beijing, he said, could hide behind its so-called peaceful history and friendship to the region dating back centuries, and to reaffirm its so-called Asian regional friendliness, to give a good package and impression to regional players, but its potential future intent was not sealed.
“We cannot use the historical basis of a peaceful rise and conduct of China as a justification in assuring that China has never used force to compel other countries.
“Security and international policies are fluid, and only permanent interests remain.
“Do we want to hedge a bet on the unproven future orientation of Beijing and autocracy as a system or to rely on the safe bet of proven historical success of democracy and freedom?” he asked.
Beijing, Chong added, faced the constraint of time, and the West enjoyed long-term strengthening of its economy and hard power capacity in the region.
“Beijing is racing to strengthen its South China Sea capacity and ambition for its Pacific expansion, trade and resources assurance and its ultimate Taiwan agenda.
“Contrary to popular arguments, Beijing does not hold the advantage of increasing military capacity and in narrowing the power gap with the West, especially in the region.
“While greater risks can be anticipated with renewed ties and support with Moscow and Pyongyang, the West’s consolidated alliance and friend-shoring capabilities are to be ignored at Beijing’s own expense.
“Washington’s allies in Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Canberra, Delhi and a growing number of partners in the region will always ensure that any upcoming real hot war or conflict with Beijing will definitely not be a war fought alone,” said Chong. – airtimes.my