Asean countries need to review maritime legislation

The review is crucial so that the countries can mitigate the issue and maintain current status quo area


MALAYSIA and its Asean neighbours need to review its maritime legislation in response to the new China’s “coast guard law” to maintain stability and security in the South China Sea.

Chief of Staff, IMT M-15, Malaysian Armed Forces Captain Hazrine Mohd Taib of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) said China’s coast guard law has authorised its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, destroy structures or features on its claim and take all the necessary measures including the use of weapons.

“I think in Malaysia’s point of view and maybe for other claimant states, there is a need to review our current legislation and standard operating procedures (SOPs) when operating within the vicinity of the Chinese coast guard.

“As we know, the South China Sea can be a potential flashpoint. Therefore, in handling such situations, new laws and SOPs, especially for our RMN’s and coast guard’s ships, need to be reviewed so that we can mitigate the issue and maintain our current status quo area,” Hazrine said in a virtual forum jointly organised by Projek Pertiwi and the Malaysian Armed Forces Defence College yesterday.

China passed a law on Jan 22 this year that authorises its coast guard to use weapons on foreign vessels.

Japan and the US have expressed “serious concerns” about the new law that is viewed as seeking to change the status quo.

Research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies of S Rajaratnam School of International Studies Dr Collin Koh Swee Lean said the only way for Asean countries to bring its voice back to the security agenda on the South China Sea is to carry a greater momentum of collective opinion and voices as a whole in the discussion of the Code of Conduct with China.

“Otherwise, we are going to let China and the US continue to dominate the scene,” Koh said.

He said China and the US have been the greatest driver of militarisation around the area in the South China Sea as seen from recent times with a spate of reactions and counter-reactions, posturing and counter-posturing between the two key players.

Unfortunately, he said Asean countries’ voices have been shunted to the sidelines.

Koh said the Covid-19 pandemic provides a good opportunity for South-East Asian agencies, including navies, coast guards or other maritime agencies, to look at how they could maximise their existing resources amid fiscal austerity.

He said they need to cooperate and coordinate actions among each other and with their land-based counterparts for more effective maritime security going forward.

In the run-up to the 37th Asean Summit and related meetings last year, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (picture) said Asean must get its house “in order” first and work together to resolve overlapping claims among member states before it engages in a broader struggle with China and the US.

The South China Sea dispute remains a contentious issue among Asean countries with their respective territorial claims playing out on the back of conflicting interests and rivalries between the US and China.