PUTRAJAYA: The South China Sea must remain as a zone of peace, stability and trade, and never an arena of contention with Asean states caught in a conflict, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said here today.
He said Malaysia’s position on the South China Sea issue is clear: that territorial and maritime disputes are resolved by the relevant parties by peaceful means, in line with the principles of international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982.
“We also look forward to the resumption of the negotiations on the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (COC),” he said in his speech at the virtual 27th Asean Regional Forum (ARF) session.
Hishammuddin called on all parties to ensure the freedom of navigation in and overflight over the South China Sea, adding that despite the differences in individual approaches, all parties have to avoid actions deemed provocative, especially at a time when the governments remain focused on combating the global Covid-19 pandemic.
He pointed out that South China Sea is one of the five issues to be addressed regionally to maintain and secure regional peace and stability, the others being the refugee crisis from the Rakhine state in Myanmar; countering terrorism and violent extremism; disarmament and non-proliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear technology; as well as the developments in the Korean Peninsula.
On Rakhine, Hishammuddin said Malaysia continues to bear the brunt of the refugee spillover effects from this prolonged crisis with no foreseeable end.
“Unfortunately, we can no longer take any more Rohingya as our resources and capacity are already stretched, compounded by the pandemic. Yet, Malaysia is unfairly expected to do more to accommodate incoming refugees with added pressure from the humanitarian groups,” he said.
Malaysia, Hishammuddin stressed, reaffirms the need for proportionate burden and responsibility sharing and calls for the signatory countries of the 1951 Convention (on refugees) to uphold and stand committed to their international legal obligations to receive more refugees for resettlement or relocation.
“Malaysia strongly supports a repatriation process, which is voluntary, safe and dignified, of displaced persons from Rakhine and appeals to Myanmar and Bangladesh to find an expeditious and sustainable solution of this matter.
“If this is not being addressed immediately, the vulnerable Rohingya people will continue to be susceptible to exploitation and be victimised by unscrupulous human traffickers and terrorist forces,” he said.
On countering terrorism and violent extremism, Hishammuddin said though it is clear that terrorist groups have remained relatively quiet during Covid-19, no one should discount the fact that they could be ramping up their efforts to take advantage of the present uncertain times to further their agenda.
Represented at the online event were the 10 Asean member states and the 10 Asean dialogue partners (Australia, Canada, China, European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the United States).
It was also attended by Bangladesh, North Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea.