WHENEVER one visits some of the famous beach resorts along the east coast from Cherating, Pahang, to Dungun, Terengganu, it becomes obvious that the influx of tourists from China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan is making a significant contribution to the tourism industry.
It was once the exclusive playground for Westerners and some affluent Asian tourists. It is obvious that China has emerged as an economic power and this is reflected in the increasing number of its citizens travelling abroad as students, businessmen and tourists.
In the last 30 years, the Chinese ruling Communist party has chosen pragmatism over ideology to modernise its economy and society so much so that China is now no longer a "paper tiger". Its economic and scientific achievements have been superlative. China has overtaken the United States as the largest auto market. It built the largest dam -- the Three Gorges.
It is the third nation to have launched its own space station and conducted a space walk, and in the coming dozen years, it is expected to make a lunar landing.
As it flexes its economic muscle, its military might will grow, especially with its expanding fleet of warships. The country has the confidence and wherewithal to declare the South China Sea as one of its core interests comparable with its claims over Taiwan.
However, does the name "South China Sea" make it a southern sea of China or, for that fact, the Persian Gulf make it an exclusive gulf of modern-day Iran?
The rising temperature of conflicts between competing claimants to the island chains, that stretch in an arch from the Kuriles, to the Spratlys, is engulfing just about every littoral country in the Asia-Pacific rim.
If cooler heads do not prevail soon, then a high noon encounter is not far off. For those who take comfort that today's national economies are so intertwined in terms of trade, supply and financial markets that another world war is next to impossible, they are to be reminded that on the eve of World War 1 in 1914, similar views were widely expressed.
Then, the world economy was considered to be just as global and dependent that a shooting incident in Sarajevo could not have possibly triggered off a world war.
It did and a whole generation of young men had to die needlessly in trenches, from the Gallipoli Campaign to the Battle of Somme.
Not far off the coast of Kuantan, lie the sunken wrecks of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse that were bombed by Japanese warplanes on Dec 10, 1941.
Further up the coast, on the beaches of Kota Baru, some concrete pillboxes still stand as remnants of World War 2.
Perhaps, more monuments ought to be erected to serve as useful reminders to local and foreign visitors that these parts of lush rainforests, long sea shores and clear turquoise waters off the bay were once killing fields.
When we travel overseas, we act as informal ambassadors of our respective nations. How we behave or misbehave is a reflection of the refinement of our culture. How we display our sensitivity towards local culture and the ecosystem can have immense social impact on the local population.
Although the interaction between foreign tourists and locals may be fleeting, it is a useful encounter that may leave a lasting and positive impression.
Perhaps a Chinese tourist enjoying the cool breeze from the South China Sea can come to appreciate that it is an ocean that has been shared for centuries.
Tourism may be about living in fantasy for a few days a year but it is a fantasy worth experiencing. Each generation leaves behind its historical footprints for the next to pick up.
Perhaps our generation can leave some in small, measured steps -- nothing dramatic and heroic -- by spreading peace, tolerance and understanding during our short stays at resorts and holiday spots.
Tai Hean Kiat, Sungai Buloh,Selangor