Indicating a major climb down in its aggressive stand over the South China Sea (SCS), Beijing has indicated it willing to meet Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) "halfway" to solve the SCS dispute.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin met Defense Minister Wei Fenghe last week. The two sides discussed on strengthening bilateral cooperation in all fields including defense, economy and trade, and education, among others.
“China is committed to strengthening defense cooperation between the two countries, and constantly advance military to military ties to achieve fresh results,” Wei said.
“As the overall situation in the South China Sea has remained stable, China is willing to work with countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) including Malaysia, to meet each other halfway so as to keep the peace and tranquility of the South China Sea,” Wei added.
In mid-August, Malaysia said it “rejects Beijing's expansive maritime,” after a Chinese government government survey ship was allegedly "tagging" an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia's state oil company Petronas, in the hotly contested sea.
"Malaysia opposes China's claim that they have historic rights over those waters. China’s claims over maritime features in the SCS to have no basis whatsoever under international law," Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told the Parliament.
A day later, Wei visited Indonesian defense minister Prabowo Subianto. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the SCS dispute, Beijing claims parts of the sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. Jakarta accused accused Chinese fishing boats of operating in the nation’s waters off the Natuna Islands, triggering diplomatic tensions. As recently as last week, a 2700-tonne Chinese coast guard vessel was spotted allegedly in Indonesian waters some 1500km from mainland China.
China’s relationship with Philippines also appears to be complicated. Wei met Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on September 13. “It is hoped that all parties will resolve their conflicts and differences through friendly consultations on the basis of respect for international law, and jointly achieve long-term peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Duterte expressed.
Slamming China for its “aggressive” behaviour, Philippines yesterday vowed to keep Western powers in the disputed Sea, challenging China’s demand to keep them out of the strategic waterway. “China’s demand to exclude Western powers from the South China Sea – that I will never allow…. The Western powers must be present in the South China Sea as a balance,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr told lawmakers at the House of Representatives, as members of the ASEAN were in talks for a South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC).