Malaysia returns to the PRC’s South China Sea media cauldron

The Foreign Ministers of China and Malaysia, Yang Jiechi and Anifah Aman, shake hands in Kota Kinabalu, August 12, 2012

There was a post here last year about the KD Pari, a Malaysian Navy fast attack craft that sort-of-sank while allegedly chasing a Chinese ship near Swallow Reef. It still continues to attract traffic from the search engines, which hints at a general dearth of information on the Malaysian dimension to the South China Sea disputes.

Malaysia usually gets little noticed in the Chinese media too, when it comes to the South China Sea issue, but that changed with Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Amin’s comment on August 12 that Southeast Asian states should sort out their South China Sea claims before negotiating with China. At a press conference right after his meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi (who wasn’t in attendance), Anifah said:

There are overlapping claims by member countries. Let us discuss these among ASEAN countries first before we talk to China . . . We can only achieve this objective in the South China Sea if all parties agree. Then China can appreciate this and realise it is ASEAN’s wish.

Although Malaysia’s official Bernama news agency did not report these comments, they were still picked up, translated and introduced into the Chinese media by the Huanqiu Shibao. This led in turn to the following report from Yunnan TV. As the summary translation indicates, it struck an indignant tone that painted Malaysia as yet another addition to the list of hostile anti-China forces.

Summary translation follows after the jump…

After skipping breezily through the standard platitudes of the Yang and Anifah’s meeting, the report recalls the US’s August 3 statement on the South China Sea, which expressed support for “ASEAN unity” over the issue. “And,” says the voiceover, “this statement from the Malaysian Foreign Minister’s bears a striking resemblance to America’s approach.” This is different, the report notes, from the position China has continuously espoused in favour of bilateral negotiations.

The voiceover then states that Malaysia has “since 1979 has illegally occupied 5 of our country’s islands and reefs, including Swallow Reef (弹丸礁),” where it has built a simple airstrip. It then states (as simple fact of course):

The so-called EEZ and continental shelf Malaysia has drawn infringe our country’s traditional boundary line by as much as 270,000 sq km. Meanwhile, in the area of oil and gas development in the waters of the South China Sea, Malaysia has moved the fastest and done the most. The oil and gas industry has become an important pillar of the Malaysian economy.

However, the report says, while the Philippines and Vietnam have been eagerly making provocations in the past couple of years, Malaysia has preferred a low-key approach. At the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2010, for example, Malaysian PM Najib Razak spoke of his family’s long historical connection with China (not the first time) and praised China as a strong but non-hegemonic power.

Host Qian He then crosses to CASS scholar Wang Xiaopeng 王晓鹏, who seems to be all but reading from a script. He opens by explaining:

In the South China Sea, especially the Spratly Islands, Malaysia can be said to have occupied islands and reefs, claimed the waters, exploited the oil, and organised tourism.

Wang then explains that while Malaysia does not occupy the most islands, it was the earliest to start “illegal development of China’s oil and gas resources in the South China Sea”.

Its relatively low-key and conciliatory position on the South China Sea is, explains Wang, is part of its “backseat driver” approach to ASEAN, through which “it hopes to solidify its illegal gains”.

Another prong to Malaysia’s approach is the “pack of wolves strategem” 群狼战术, trying to build an ASEAN united front, bringing in other ASEAN claimants and even non-claimants into its camp to create an “non-linear resistance towards China”.

The host then asks whether this will happen, and Wang Xiaopeng answers that it is unlikely since dissension is already emerging among ASEAN. He says the Philippines and Vietnam see Malaysia’s position as insufficiently forceful 很不够给力, while Thailand and Cambodia see it as too strong.

Lastly, the host asks Mr Wang about whether Anifah’s August 12 statement could be a positive response to the US’s August 3 statement — the answer is that Malaysia has responded “selectively”, trying to avoid offending China while at the same time encouraging the internationalisation of the dispute.

One Comment on “Malaysia returns to the PRC’s South China Sea media cauldron”

  1. […] in PRC domestic discourse, that rival claimants, especially Vietnam and Malaysia, are “plundering” China’s […]

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