Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage

July 14, 2016

Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage

by Philip Bowring (June 15, 2016)

Although China claims vast areas of sea within Malaysia’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the Spratly Islands, some of which are occupied by Malaysia, China’s purchase of assets from the scandal-ridden 1MDB has enabled it to manipulate Malaysian foreign policy to its advantage. –Philip Bowring, Asia Sentinel

Malaysia is succumbing to China’s efforts to undermine the solidarity of other littoral states in standing up to China’s aggressive claim to almost the whole South China Sea. Just at the point when China seems likely to face a judgment against it in the case brought by the Philippines in the Court of Arbitration in The Hague. Although China claims vast areas of sea within Malaysia’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the Spratly Islands, some of which are occupied by Malaysia, China’s purchase of assets from the scandal-ridden 1MDB has enabled it to manipulate Malaysian foreign policy to its advantage.

ASEAN Solidarity is also being eroded by the election process in the United States, which is bringing into question the American trade and strategic commitments to East Asia, without which none of the ASEAN countries will resist Chinese pressure for long.

On the face of things, ASEAN Foreign Ministers took a firm line with China at their just-ended meeting in Kunming. Their statement after the meeting said they “express their serous concern over recent and ongoing developments that have eroded trust and confidence, increased tension and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

“We stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the Ministers said. This, they said, was in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

ASEAN retraction

However, the statement was then retracted by the Ministers in an amazing about turn engineered by Beijing with the help not merely of its usual client states, Cambodia and Laos, but also Malaysia. The retraction was also an astonishing embarrassment for Singapore and its Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Singapore is current coordinator of the ASEAN-China dialogue.

The Malaysian move followed a remarkable article in The Star newspaper a day earlier by the Chinese Ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, Huang Huikang.  Huang used this platform for an open attack on the Philippines, supposedly a friend and ally of Malaysia. President Benigno S. Aquino III was described as having “acted as a pawn in an outsider’s political strategy” and described the arbitration case as a “farce.” Aquino’s “political legacy will only be a pile of pills from the tribunal.”

Huang went on to praise Malaysia, describing relations with China “the best in history” and urging the incoming Philippine President to follow its example in dealing with China.

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is wavering in his attitude to China. He clearly wants Chinese money for infrastructure projects that would be forthcoming if he gives ground the sea issue and agrees to bilateral talks, and possible joint resource development. On the other hand, he can hardly walk away from any decision in Philippines’ favor, nor go back on his commitment to the Philippines claim on the Scarborough Shoal, which lies just 120 nautical miles off the coast of Luzon.

Arrogant abuse

The arrogance of Huang in abusing his diplomatic position to attack the President of a neighbor and ASEAN partner should have drawn immediate condemnation from Malaysia. But Huang is accustomed to getting away with this kind of behavior, which suggests he already regards Malaysia as a Beijing tributary and himself as the proconsul. In September 2015, Huang made a highly publicized walk through KL’s Chinatown to indicate that China would look after the interests of its ethnic brethren in Malaysia. Beijing has thereby reversed China’s longstanding commitment not to interfere in other countries internal affairs or use ethnic Chinese minorities for its own political purposes. These are now being used to enhance Chinese interests in claiming a sea whose coastline is only about 25 percent Chinese.

Beijing views Malaysia as the weakest link in the solidarity of maritime states partly by using the position of the Chinese minority as leverage, and partly through the power of money to influence decisions made by the UMNO-led government. The 1MDB case arose at a particularly opportune moment for Beijing, enabling China to come to the rescue of embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Beijing has long focused its military attentions on Vietnam and, more recently with its seizure of Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines. Malaysia has been left alone for now. But Chinese claims are now less of a threat, encompassing as they do waters already exploited by Malaysia as well as others with oil and gas potential, not to forget islands such as Layang-Layang where Malaysia has an airstrip and dive resort. But do not imagine an UMNO government cares about national interests over its own power and money needs.

Hollow Washington

Meanwhile, the US provides little encouragement for a reliable and long-term ally. The emergence of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee is a poor advertisement for western democracy. His anti-Muslim attitudes are offensive to much of Asia, Malaysia included. And his isolationist attitudes suggest that his presidency would see a reduction in the US presence in the region and the withering of the network of cooperation with countries from Japan to Australia and India and including many ASEAN members. President Obama’s “rebalance” Asian rather than Middle East interests would be forgotten.

A US turn away from its traditional promotion of free trade is also a concern. Not merely is Trump critical of free trade agreements but Hillary Clinton too now says she opposes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), one of the cornerstones of the US tilt towards Asia to meet the challenge of China’s rising influence.

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9 thoughts on “Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage

  1. China thinks that it can manipulate other countries. It fails to understand that the manipulation is only skin-deep. The entire world is laughing at China and Malaysia.

  2. Najib is begging for China’s money and Hadi’s PAS has the audacity to call DAP duplicitous – why would not a China career diplomat, NOT use the laughable self-absorbtion he sees around him and ACT to further China’s interest AND HIS OWN CAREER?

  3. China consider Malaysia a satellite state. That is why their Ambassador was so brazen by taking a walk along Petaling Street and assuring the Chinese that China will protect them. Where were the red shirts UMNOb Youth then?
    China does not consider Malaysia a threat, not militarily nor economically after buying up 1MDB. Now China owns strategic assets of Malaysia including vast land in Johore and infrastructure Susah as the power supplies. Perkasa, how come no pip squeak when these assets are sold to the real “pendatangs” and not the local Malaysians? MAlaysian leaders talk big, China will turn off the power and all Malaysia will go dark.

  4. Malaysia or Najib & his UMNOMelayus will lick the Chinese boots, if necessary their ass , to remain in power. This typical double headed twist of the UMNOMelayus is not going to help the solidarity of ASEAN to stand against a big bully who is determined to treat all the small nations as its colonies through money power. Likewise Australia the incoming Turnbull better watch his foreign policy does not encourage the Chinese the to emboldened the Chinese to defy the respect for international laws just because Australia too has become dependent on China’s commodity buying power. Australia too will trade of the rights of the smaller nations for its own selfish benefit. Watch the scramble.

  5. China saw the weakness of UMNO took the best of 1MDB at the price they called. PAS slept with
    UMNO now having a baby (umnopas) .Wah hai Melayu what has happened ? Raja raja will be just like what happened to the many Sultans in Indonesia no one will talk off…..PERKASA ,Baju
    Merah and all those Melayu NGO….could not see
    the Chinese Navy sailing into Malaysia water like it is their own water real soon. TLDM is just floating baby toys to China…..

  6. Who manipulates who?

    UN distances itself from Permanent Court of Arbitration, had No role in Philippines case vs China:

    PCA clarifies role, double standards in South China Sea arbitration profane international law :

    Note that the appointment of arbitrators was being manipulated by two World War II war criminals’ allied countries, Germany and Japan !!!

    Quoted: “The Philippines appointed German arbitrator Rudiger Wolfrum, and the four other arbitrators were appointed by Japan’s Shunji Yanai, then president of the Hamburg-based International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS):”

    “Yanai’s political leanings rules out the possibility of a fair judgement, as he has helped Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lift the ban on Japan’s collective self-defense right and challenge the post-WWII international order.”

  7. In Singapore and Malaysia case on rock dispute is different from Philippines vs China because both parties of Singapore and Malaysia agreed to the arbitration, the determination is therefore binding; whereas in Philippines against China case, China did not agree to the arbitration and rejected the arbitration in the first place, so the arbitration is illegal, invalid and the determination become nullified and voided.

    Malaysia and Singapore case is bilateral, i.e. both sides agreed to the arbitration, whereas Philippines against China is unilateral. Moreover, China already declared and excluded from the compulsory arbitration 2006.

  8. /// Beijing manipulates Malaysia’s foreign policy to its advantage ///

    What a motherhood statement. Which country does not want to have advantages in its foreign policy front, given half a chance?

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