Malaysia’s defense minister on Saturday warned his counterparts that the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) conflict could become one of the deadliest conflicts the world has ever known, a Singaporean television news channel reported on Saturday.
Addressing the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on security with a high-level American and Chinese delegation attending, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said new global challenges are emerging from longstanding conflicts, and he is urging the rule of law be followed in the dispu- ted territory.
“If we are not careful it would escalate into one of the deadliest conflict of our time, if not our history,” a Channel News Asia report quoting him as saying.
“Just because a region appears to be peaceful and prosperous doesn’t mean the prospects of conflict do not arise,” Hussein added.
The United States and China have openly voiced their opposing views on the sovereignty of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims based on its nine-dash line principle that is being contested by Manila and Hanoi before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos).
Washington has described China’s increasing land reclamation, and the possible deployment of weaponry on artificial islands, as deeply concerning, unprecedented and destabilizing.
Beijing argues it has acted with restraint and blames the United States for contributing to the rising divisions in the region, the Channel News Asia report said.
Hussein said all parties must take responsibility to maintain peace and stability.
“Inflamed rhetoric and mutual recrimination will do no country any good. It is perhaps too optimistic to believe that we can prevent conflict and its escalation all the time and every time.”
He said conflicting countries can act on how they see fit in their sovereign areas but should be aware of the consequences of their decisions.
In the same event, Indonesia’s defense minister urged countries locked in a dispute over territories in the South China should carry out joint “peace patrols” in the South China Sea to reduce the risk of conflict.
According to a report in the Today online, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told reporters on the sidelines of the regional security meeting that the proposed patrols would send a message that no single country should “build up strength or threaten anyone”.
Indonesia has long said it is a neutral party in the disputes, even as waters off its Natuna archipelago—an area rich in natural gas—appear to overlap slightly with China’s claims, a Bloomberg report posted on the Today website said.
Asked whether he thought China had designs on the Natuna islands, Mr Ryacudu said “not yet” and added China had no right over them. “We have history there,” he said.
While the report said that joint patrols in South China Sea would be hard to implement, Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hussein said joint patrols with China were “not an impossibility”. He added that joint patrols have been effective in the Strait of Malacca which used to be infested with pirates preying on commercial ships.
“China has more to lose if the region is unstable,” he told reporters.