By P PREM KUMAR / Pic By AFP
Asean is positive on the Indo-Pacific vision tabled by US VP Mike Pence yesterday, if the global powerhouse can ensure there will be no encroachment of its warships in regional waters.
In making the assertion, Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Asean heads of governments were receptive to Pence’s proposal at the 33rd Asean Summit and Related Summits.
However, he said Malaysia remains firm that the vision must be accompanied with assurance that the region is free from US warships.
Dr Mahathir said small boats can be allowed, but the presence of US warships in Asean waters will only raise geopolitical tensions.
“If the strategy doesn’t include sending the Seventh Fleet into this area, we would welcome that.
“Small patrol boats are needed to deal with piracy mainly, but big warships may cause incidents and that will lead to tension,” he told reporters here when he was asked to comment on Asean’s response to Pence’s remark.
The Seventh Fleet is a numbered fleet (a military formation) of the US Navy and part of the US Pacific Fleet.
Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir said the federal government will thoroughly evaluate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) before acceding, to pre-empt possible misgivings from Malaysians.
He said Malaysia’s population has diverse views on such complex matters, which he said must also be considered.
“We want to avoid conflicts in our country, by acceding to foreign ideas,” the PM added.
The RCEP is a proposed multilateral pact between the 10 Asean countries and six Asia-Pacific nations — Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
The RCEP member countries in total has a population of 3.4 billion people and a GDP of US$49.5 trillion (RM207.45 trillion). China and India are the largest in the sheer size of the economies.
Negotiations on the RCEP were launched in November 2012 at the Asean Summit in Cambodia. The RCEP is seen as the alternative to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which continues to be shrouded in uncertainties after the US pulled out from the bloc.