China coast guard vessels: Hishamuddin’s responses most bizarre and puzzling

Over the past few days in Kuching and in Kluang, Defense Minister Hishammudin Hussein was asked by the press to comment on the presence of China’s coast guard vessels in Malaysian waters and gave some of the most bizarre and puzzling responses, which could have triggered calls for his resignation in other more mature democracies.

It was reported that China’s coast guard vessels were encroaching into the waters around Beting Patinggi Ali, about 84 nautical miles from the coast of Miri.

In November 2015, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim said Malaysia had been sending diplomatic notes every week about the presence of the ships.

Hishamuddin’s responses are as follows,

1. That he had been informed that the ships had lifted anchor and were not in Malaysian waters;

2. That he would arrange a courtesy visit by Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Dr. Huang Huikang with Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem as part of the diplomatic efforts.

First, as Minister of Defense, Hishamuddin must inform the nation whether Malaysia’s waters or its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, has been encroached? How often have such situations occured? And for long how?

Are these innocent passages or intended enforcement/patrolling operations?

If it were innocent passages, and with China openly stating its adherence to the provisions of United Nations Convention of Laws of Sea (UNCLOS) and its respect for Malaysia’s sovereignty claims on the disputed areas, the matter should be laid to rest in a diplomatic and friendly manner.

However, if the China coast guard were conducting enforcement operations and violated UNCLOS rules as well as Malaysian’s sovereignty, Malaysia must take concrete and firm steps to ensure that the China vessels leave Malaysia’s waters with an official apology from China for encroachment.

Internationally, South China Sea is increasingly a highly contested area. The Malaysian government must be seen competently dealing with unapproved encroachments.

Second, the most bizarre and puzzling part of Hishamuddin’s replies is his attempt to facilitate a meeting between the Chinese ambassador and the Sarawak Chief Minister to resolve the issue?

Why is Hishamuddin acting as a postman for Adenan when the defense of Malaysia’s sovereignty is a federal matter?

I am a great proponent of decentralisation. Education, policing, healthcare and transportation should be devolved to state governments. But even in the most decentralised nations, defense and foreign policy are clear-cut federal/central government domains.

Hishamuddin must provide better answers than what he did over the past few days and there is a need for Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Cabinet to reveal whether they agree with Hishamuddin’s highly irresponsible responses.

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