KUALA LUMPUR: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) continues to play a crucial role in maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, including the disputed claims over the Spratlys.

Maritime Institute of Malaysia (Mima) director-general First-Admiral (Rtd) Datuk Chin Yoon Chin said one of Asean’s important initiatives was the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC).

“DOC emphasises the necessity to resolve sovereignty and jurisdictional issues pertaining to the South China Sea by peaceful means, without resorting to force,” Chin told the New Straits Times.

He said Asean sought to boost cooperation in six areas — marine environment, emergency assistance, joint search and rescue exercises, full and effective implementation of DOC, enhancing maritime practical cooperation, and speeding up consultation on the Code of Conduct (COC).

First-Admiral (Rtd) Datuk Chin Yoon Chin

Chin believed DOC should address more pressing issues, such as the use of force and reclamation activities, and build on trust among claimants.

“Efforts and initiatives to enhance confidence-building among the claimant states need to be seriously looked into. Such initiatives will foster better understanding and hopefully enable negotiations to take place towards enhancing the confidence-building process,” he said.

Chin said Mima had helped build awareness among Malaysians about the Spratlys and other maritime issues by facilitating conferences on security, environment, law enforcement and sustainable development matters on the South China Sea claims.

Mima has participated in Asean-level meetings, such as the Asean Regional Forum, Asean Maritime Forum and Asean Defence Ministers Meeting-Plus that discuss South China Sea matters.

On Malaysia’s claims within its continental shelf limits, Chin said it had made a “Joint Submission” (JS) with Vietnam to the “Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf” (CLCS) and on the “Extended Continental Shelf” in May 2009.

“However, CLCS may not be able to consider the JS due to China’s ‘Note Verbale’ – a form of third-person protest note. The Philippines has also registered its protest on some parts on the JS, while Indonesia protested on the map submitted by China (laying claims in the South China Sea),” he said.

Malaysia, he added, might need to consider other options, including negotiating with claimants to review or retract their protests.

A Royal Malaysian Air Force Beechcraft King Air B220T used for surveillance activities over the South China Sea. Pix source: Airliners.net

Another option is to make unilateral submissions to the second part of the extended “Continental Shelf” in 2019, to which Malaysia is entitled.

“Mima is not involved in the process, but provides expert opinion on these matters,” he said.

Malaysia maintains five naval stations on Pulau Layang-Layang, Terumbu Mantanani, Terumbu Ubi, Terumbu Siput and Terumbu Peninjau, and it continues to have a presence around all other features within Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf.

Chin said one of the major achievements for Malaysia was the establishment of a navigational beacon, and a marine and scientific station in Pulau Layang-Layang.

“Pulau Layang-Layang is also being developed into a diving resort, open to the public from March to September. Aquaculture research is also being conducted by the Fisheries Department there.”