Why Malaysia, unlike Philippines, keeps quiet on sea row
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2014 - 1:18pm

MANILA, Philippines — Malaysia also has overlapping claims with China on several coastal territories in the South China Sea, but it has a "broad consensus" with the Asian power.

This is what the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed in its statement to the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, answering queries on why Malaysia has been downplaying the sea row when its Southeast Asian neighbors like the Philippines and Vietnam have been outspoken against China's show of force in the maritime region.

"Malaysia and China have disputes in the South China Sea. But the two sides share broad consensus on appropriately handling the disputes issues," the Chinese agency said.

Asked to give a reaction on the matter, the Malaysia government did not respond to the US-based newspaper.

The Philippines' and Vietnam's rivalries with China have escalated the past year as Beijing started reclamation work in Philippine-claimed waters and put up two oil rigs in what Vietnam considers part of its maritime territory.

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The Philippines has also lodged an arbitration case against China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea--a move Beijing condemned as unneighborly.

Japan, meanwhile, was recently embroiled in a more heated rivalry with China over the East China Sea, with the row reaching its height in Chinese and Japanese military planes and ships almost colliding in the contested area.

Malaysia, on the other hand, has been more interested in furthering positive relations with China by avoiding making remarks and moves that may trigger Beijing's retaliation.

In a study for the US state department, envoy John Finkbeiner said Malaysia has lessened economic dependence on the US and strengthened trade relations with China.

"Malaysia appears to pursue a non-confrontational approach in the sovereignty dispute, which differs markedly compared to Vietnam and the Philippines," Finkbeiner said.

"The first pillar regards Malaysia’s firm commitment to increase its trade and investment ties with the world’s most dynamic economy in order to hedge its other strong economic  ties, with the US in particular," he added.

Neither has Malaysia taken seriously Chinese projections and assertions in the South China Sea without beefing up its defense to avert future conflict.

Finkbeiner pointed out that Malaysia's military spending fell in 2009 and 2010 before slightly increasing in 2011, but levels remain unremarkable.

In comparison, the Philippines has heavily invested in military maritime capabilities as well as its Coast Guard the past years seeing Chinese domination in the strategic waterway a threat.

Malaysia, however, does not seem to completely bandwagon with China by maintaining strong military-to-military ties with the US and other Western powers, Finkbeiner said.

"Malaysia’s primary aim was to cultivate a regional balance of power and thus inhibit dominance by any single power," he explained. "Thus Malaysia  helped further regional balance between the U.S. and China, much the same way it cultivated its own balance between the two powers."

BEIJING CHINA CHINESE AND JAPANESE CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY COAST GUARD EAST CHINA SEA FINKBEINER JOHN FINKBEINER MALAYSIA SOUTH CHINA SEA
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