Mat Sabu: Asia-Pacific security dynamics complicated by US-China rivalry


PETALING JAYA: One of the greatest challenges faced by nations today is the complex security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region, especially with the geo-political rivalry between the United States and China, says Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu.

He said the region had the world’s fastest growing economies and the fastest increasing military expenditures and naval capabilities.

"These facts reflect a bigger global security risk, especially when there is strong evidence of fierce competition over natural resources and overlapping claims on strategic hot spots.

"The competition in the South China Sea has undeniably fractured the status quo regionalism and created new coalitions," he said in his speech during the Shangri-La Dialogue titled Asia's Evolving Security Order and Its Challenges, in Singapore on Saturday.

The security order scenario should be categorised into three strategic outlooks, he added.

"The first outlook portrays the challenge to oversee the uncertainty and complex regional order due to geopolitical competition. 

"This outlook occurs due to multipolar power structure manifested by the new US administration and China’s robust economic and security policy objectives for this region.

"The uncertain relationship between US and China will remain as an explicit factor in shaping the stability of the Asia-Pacific region, particularly that of South-East Asian countries," he said.

The second strategic outlook predicted South-East Asia and intra-Asian dynamics revolving around overlapping border claims, large movement of refugees and the rise of internal conflicts, Mohamad said.

"The plight of the Rohingya is sheer evidence of internal conflict that has snowballed into a major humanitarian crisis. Malaysia’s position on the Rohingya issue is well known and consistent.

"We believe that the situation in Rakhine is no longer a domestic conflict. The Asean Charter spoke very strongly about the principle of non-interference, and Malaysia will continue to subscribe to this principle.

"However, beyond the humanitarian dimension, there are also the security and strategic dimensions – the widespread movement of the Rohingyas creates instability in the region, and could easily become a rallying call for violent extremism in the region," he lamented.

The third outlook foresees the issues pertaining to non-traditional security (NTS) risks and emerging trends impacting the Asian region.

"This outlook will be in the limelight in the coming future, as it poses greater challenges. 

"Maritime violence, terrorism and cyber security are main challenges that need to be addressed accordingly.

"Maritime violence, particularly sea piracy and robbery, requires a more collaborative approach among nations. Maritime issues would be potential threats among nations if concerted efforts are not tabled effectively. 

"Obviously, South-East Asia waters have faced multi-faceted challenges, ranging from traditional to non-traditional threats within its shores and beyond," he said.

The rivalry of the big powers aggravated tensions in the South China Sea, he added.

"As a result, there is a greater risk of naval ships and aircraft encounters which pose possible clash that could spark major conflicts dragging Asean member states into it. 

"One such issue is the South China Sea, which concerns the security and sustenance of many neighboring nations. The South China Sea should remain an area of peace, friendship and trade; rather than one of confrontation and conflict where Asean and the rest of the world can leverage on our strategic location," he said.

Mohamad also called for tighter regional security operation to ensure countries remained safe and peaceful and in turn spur economic development.

"Within the defence sector, a stronger collaboration would increase our interoperability and capability in facing our common threats.

"For Malaysia, the nation’s well-being is founded on strong and friendly relations with other countries and its commitment to the multilateral system. 

"Malaysia will actively participate in the deliberations and efforts toward finding solutions to various global issues.

"Malaysia will continue with the principles of engagement and cooperation rather than isolationism and unilateral action," he said.