With an impending Cold War around the corner, China keeps on losing allies. Now, another Asian country- Malaysia seems to be weaning away from Beijing. With Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin at the helm of affairs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has been giving frequent blows to the Chinese Communist Party.
In a fresh setback to the CCP, Malaysia has rejected China’s illegal ‘nine-dash line’ theory whereby China encircles 90 percent of South China Sea waters as a part of its own territory. With the increasing confrontations and diplomatic tussles in the South China Sea, Malaysia is the latest country to reject China’s claims.
The CCP claims that Malaysia has no right to establish a Continental Shelf of its own in the northern parts of the strategic waterways. In response to China’s outrageous claims, the Muhyiddin government has invoked the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
In fact, the Malaysian Mission has written a strongly-worded note verbale dated July 29 to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stating that Kuala Lumpur “rejects China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, with respect to the maritime areas of the South China Sea encompassed by the relevant part of the ‘nine-dash line.’”
The note verbale expressed that China’s claims in the disputed waterways are contrary to the UNCLOS and added, “The Government of Malaysia considers that the People’s Republic of China’s claim to the maritime features in the South China Sea has no basis under international law.”
China and Malaysia have been submitting note verbales to the UN regarding the strategic waterways. But till now Kuala Lumpur’s utterances were more or less concerned with its own right to seek the establishment of a Continental Shelf. The note verbale submitted last week impinged on China’s illegal claims in the South China Sea.
RAND senior defence analyst Derek Grossman said, “Malaysia’s latest statement is surprising on the heels of Pompeo’s shift in [South China Sea] policy because Mahathir had refused to choose sides — U.S. or China — but then again Malaysia has a new leader now.”
There is a clear pivot against the CCP in Muhyiddin’s Malaysia. This is at odds with the pro-China policies of former Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who was recently sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 12 years after getting convicted on multiple charges.
Razak had taken the Chinese bait during his nine-year-long stint as Malaysia’s Prime Minister. He had courted Chinese investments and promoted a peaceful solution to the South China Sea disputes with Beijing. Razak’s pro-China attitude had become a major political issue within the Southeast Asian country and he was even accused of “selling of” Malaysia to Beijing.
Razak’s successor, Mahathir bin Mohamad- the previous Prime Minister of Malaysia, had actually won the May 2018 elections by raking up the China issue. As such, the Mahathir regime was supposed to counter the growing Chinese influence by replacing a pro-China Razak. But the volatile nonagenarian ultimately succumbed to Chinese influence on issues like Huawei and Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea.
Last year, Mahathir had even gone to the extent of suggesting that Southeast Asian countries should work with Beijing. He had said, “We are not really strong enough to tell the Chinese, ‘No, you should not do this kind of thing, it is the international law,’ or whatever,” at a Council on Foreign Relations event in the United States of America.
Moreover, Mahathir had also put his weight behind the Chinese telecom giant Huawei and his government had also criticised the United States over the Huawei controversy.
The CCP was able to exercise considerable influence in Malaysia- first with Najib Razak and then with Mahathir. But things are changing quickly with Muhyiddin at the helm of affairs. Even before coming at the helm of affairs, Muhyiddin had acted tough on China. Last year, 600 Chinese nationals were arrested in Malaysia over a foreign exchange scam, and Muhyiddin, then Malaysia’s Home Minister, had advised China to put a leash on its own citizens.
After coming to power, Muhyiddin government first revoked 5G contracts for five companies, which in turn affects Huawei, and now it has come down heavily on Beijing over the South China Sea dispute. The era of pro-China policies in Malaysia is over and Kuala Lumpur is now going back to its anti-China roots.