‘Preserve peace in South China Sea’

Virtual meet-up: Muhyiddin (centre left) flanked by Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (left) and Senior Minister cum International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali following the opening ceremony of the 37th Asean Summit held virtually from Vietnam. — Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is firm in its stand that matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully and constructively, says Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

He said it must be resolved in accordance with the universally-recognised principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea 982.

“Malaysia is of the view that all parties need to work together to ensure South China Sea remains a sea of peace, stability and trade.

“As a coastal state, it is a matter of great significance that our maritime area is safe for international trade to prosper,” he said during the plenary session of the 37th Asean Summit which started yesterday.

Themed “Cohesive and Responsive Asean”, this year’s summit, hosted by Vietnam, is being held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Prime Minister also reiterated Malaysia’s view that while international law guaranteed the freedom of navigation, the presence of warships and vessels in the South China Sea had the potential to increase tensions.

This, he noted, could result in miscalculations which might affect peace, security and stability in the region.

On another note, Muhyiddin said Asean would remain a strategic player as a bloc in the ever-changing geopolitical landscape.

He added that member states should continue to communicate and work as a united bloc.

“The reality is that as small nations, we must coalesce with those who share similar values that would be able to defend and promote Asean Centrality, the region’s interest and with external parties.

“Malaysia hopes that with the many deliberations which Asean has worked on, our collective efforts may pave the way to the realisation of our aim to be the one Asean community that we all wanted,” he said.

The Prime Minister also welcomed the endorsement of Australia’s proposal for an annual Asean-Australia leaders’ summit beginning in 2021.

Separately, Muhyiddin said the root cause of the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state must be addressed as there had been spillover effects.

This includes internally displaced people (IDPs), irregular movement of people from the state and their influx into neighbouring countries seeking refuge, with Malaysia being the major recipient.

Muhyiddin said the crisis required in-depth and forthright discourse among Asean member states.

“We have consistently advocated for a durable solution to the dire plight of the Rohingya, who are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation,” he said.

“Malaysia reaffirms the need for proportionate burden and responsibility-sharing, and calls for the signatory countries of the 1951 Convention to uphold and stand committed to their international legal obligations to receive more refugees for resettlement or relocation,” he added.

Muhyiddin said Malaysia supported a repatriation process, which is voluntary, safe and dignified, of displaced persons from Rakhine state.

Muhyiddin further said the issue of irregular movement of persons, including its connection with smuggling and human trafficking in the region, required all relevant parties to identify and address the root causes and other contributory factors, whether at the origin, during transit or destination, as well as the involvement of relevant stakeholders.

“(This should be done) based on the principle of shared responsibility as well as a balanced approach between law enforcement and humanitarian response to tackle the challenges,” he said. — Bernama

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