Malaysia calls for calm and stability in South China Sea after 'tagging' incident involving Chinese, M'sian vessels

PETALING JAYA: Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (pic) has called for calm and reaffirmed Malaysia's commitment for peace within the South China Sea after a recent incident involving Chinese and Malaysian vessels in the disputed waters.

The Foreign Minister said Malaysia held the view that the South China Sea should remain a sea of peace and trade.

"Due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, all parties must work together to maintain peace, security and stability in the South China Sea and increase efforts to build, maintain and enhance mutual trust and confidence.

"Malaysia remains firm in its commitment to safeguard its interests and rights in the South China Sea," he said in a statement Thursday (April 23).

"Just because we have not made a public statement on this does not mean we have not been working on all the above mentioned, we have open and continuous communication with all relevant parties, including the People’s Republic of China and the United States," he said.

He added that Malaysia's position on the matter was "clear and consistent".

On April 18, Reuters reported that the Haiyang Dizhi 8, a Chinese government survey ship, was "tagging" West Capella, an exploration vessel, operated by Petronas in disputed waters in the South China Sea.

According to Reuters, the area is close to waters claimed by both Vietnam and Malaysia as well as by China, through its sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea within its U-shaped 'nine-dash line' that is not recognised by its neighbours or the majority of the world.

The Haiyang Dizhi 8 was 324 km (200 miles) off the Malaysian coast, within Malaysia's exclusive economic zone, Marine Traffic data showed.

It was flanked by a Chinese coastguard vessel as it moved in a hash-shaped pattern consistent with carrying out a survey, as it did during a tense standoff in Vietnamese waters last year.

Al Jazeera has reported that two US warships, the USS America and USS Bunker Hill, have sailed near the Haiyang Dizhi 8.

The report quoting security sources said the US warships were close to the Haiyang Dizhi 8 and the West Capella drillship.

China has denied reports of a standoff as it said that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was conducting normal activities.

The United States has accused China of taking advantage of the distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to advance its presence in the South China Sea.

Hishammuddin further said matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully based on the principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982.

He said that as a former defence minister, he was aware and conscious of the situation, adding that it was paramount to "avoid unintended, accidental incidents in these waters".

"While international law guarantees the freedom of navigation, the presence of warships and vessels in the South China Sea has the potential to increase tensions that in turn may result in miscalculations which may affect peace, security and stability in the region.

"Our stance is that any disputes should be resolved amicably through peaceful means, diplomacy and mutual trust by all the concerned parties," he said.

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