By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ISTANBUL (AA) – Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday suggested a “multilateral” approach at the level of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a way forward in dealing with the disputed South China Sea.
“Due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, we should try and engage and take the position at a multilateral level between ASEAN so that we have a comprehensive approach and achieve an amicable resolution to this outstanding problem,” Anwar said at a joint news conference with Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila, which was broadcast live.
Anwar is on a two-day state visit to the Philippines, the first foreign leader hosted by Marcos since taking office in June last year.
The Malaysian premier, who assumed office last November, said he shares Marcos’ concern about the South China Sea.
The mineral-rich warm waters of the South China Sea have long been the subject of contention between China and some regional countries, with the US siding with those who oppose China’s claims.
Washington has frequently sailed its warships and flown its fighter jets over the warm waters of the South China Sea under the so-called "freedom of navigation," which Beijing has repeatedly called a violation of its territorial integrity.
ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam all have coastlines on the South China Sea. Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a part of China, is also a claimant.
China and the ASEAN signed “Declaration on the Conduct” -- an agreement on the South China Sea in Nov. 2002, marking China’s first acceptance of a multilateral agreement on the issue.
China’s claims are based on its "nine-dash line," which are purple dashes on official Chinese maps that represent Beijing's historical claims to the sea.
However, in 2016, the Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated China's South China Sea expansion claims.
- Lauds peace in Bangsamoro
Anwar commended Marcos for his “great strides” in sustaining peace in the autonomous region of Bangsamoro in the Philippines’ south.
“I must express again my profound thanks and gratitude. This has been a century-long contentious issue that affects the region and, in particular, Malaysia too,” Anwar told the Filipino leader.
“And under your leadership (as) president, you have seen great strides in this direction. And I think it’s only our duty as a good neighbor to support and facilitate the process and… things need to be done at the bilateral level to support this endeavor. It has to succeed in the interest of the Philippines, Malaysia, and the region, and then utilize this enormous potential to the benefit of our people,” the Malaysian prime minister said.
Regarding the situation in Myanmar, which has been ruled by a military junta since a coup in Feb. 2021, Anwar said the crisis is not an internal issue in the Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian country. It has an impact on the region's security and welfare, he added.
Reiterating the need for ASEAN's Five-Point Consensus on Myanmar, the Malaysian premier urged Marcos to "explore new areas as to how the Myanmar junta can be persuaded to work and collaborate as a team within ASEAN and resolve the outstanding issues, which cannot be considered purely internal."