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Malaysia - Foreign Relations

The ASEAN-China Declaration of the Conduct of Parties (DOC) signed by China and the ASEAN countries in 2002 did not achieve its purpose of promoting a peaceful, friendly and harmonious environment in the South China Sea. Instead, the next decade witnessed numerous clashes between the sovereignty-claimants. The decade witnessed numerous clashes the Philippines and Malaysia, and Malaysia and Brunei.

Due to the deadline on 13 May 1999 of claiming outer continental shelves (OCS) designated by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, the tension in the South China Sea between claiming states increased since 2009. On 06 May 2009, Malaysia and Vietnam made a joint submission relating to an area in the South of the South China Sea. On 08 May 2009, Vietnam made a submission on its own relating to an area near the center of the South China Sea. Previously, Vietnam invited Brunei to make a joint submission together with Malaysia. On 12 May 2009, Brunei made a submission to the CLCS to show that a disputed area of the South China Sea was also situated beyond 200 nautical miles from the baseline from which Bruneis territorial sea is measured, but Brunei had not protested Malaysia and Vietnams joint submission. On 7th May 2009, China made immediate objections to the Vietnamese submission and Vietnamese-Malaysian joint submissions to CLCF. It protested that these actions infringed upon Chinese sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the South China Sea.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, at that time Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, said on 28 June 2006 "You don't try and fight an elephant, but you can get between an elephant's legs! China is a big market. It buys a lot of Malaysian goods, including palm oil.... China is not a threat. It is an economic challenge, but not a security threat. Given its capability to launch operations in the South China Sea, it is not a threat to Malaysia. Generally, we are comfortable with the security situation in the region. However, it would help global security if the Palestine issue is resolved. This would also help the overall security of the region. We need to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue based on the two state systems."

Malaysia has asserted sovereignty over the Spratly Islands together with China, Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei; while the 2002 "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea" has eased tensions over the Spratly Islands, it is not the legally binding "code of conduct" sought by some parties. Malaysia was not party to the March 2005 joint accord among the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam on conducting marine seismic activities in the Spratly Islands. Disputes continue over deliveries of fresh water to Singapore, Singapore's land reclamation, bridge construction, and maritime boundaries in the Johor and Singapore Straits.

In November 2007, the ICJ held public hearings in response to the Memorials and Countermemorials filed by the parties in 2003 and 2005 over sovereignty of Pedra Branca Island/Pulau Batu Puteh, Middle Rocks and South Ledge. The ICJ awarded Ligitan and Sipadan islands, also claimed by Indonesia and Philippines, to Malaysia but left maritime boundary and sovereignty of Unarang rock in the hydrocarbon-rich Celebes Sea in dispute.

A Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel had been anchored near South Luconia Shoal (Beting Patinggi Ali), just 84 nautical miles off the coast of Sarawak, since September 4, 2013. Markers placed by the Malaysian government have mysteriously disappeared, replaced by those written in a foreign language, according to parliamentary proceedings. Between 2013 and early 2014, Malaysias policy towards the South China Sea became obscure. Taken aback by Chinese naval patrols around James Shoal (Beting Serupai in Malay), only 43 nautical miles off the coast of Sarawak State, the government responded with silence, denial, and nonchalance. Malaysian authorities were caught off balance by Chinas audacity, which they had not expected given Kuala Lumpurs perceived special relationship with Beijing.

Malaysia's stand that security issues in the South China Sea be resolved through negotiations received the agreement of all countries attending the 11th East Asia Summit (EAS) 8 September 2016. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak said all the countries, including China, had given their commitment to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the adoption of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea (COC) which would be summarized in 2017. "The East Asia Summit this time gives a positive environment in our discussion on matters concerning the region as well as at the international level. Certainly, matters concerning the South China Sea will become the focus of the international community. "This time, we see that there is a positive desire in searching for a solution to the duplication in the South China Sea," he told Malaysian journalists. Najib said the EAS member countries had also agreed on the implementation of the CUEC (Code for Encounters at Sea in the South China Sea) and the Guidelines for Hotline Communication among Senior Officials of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Asean in the event of any emergency in the maritime region.

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