MANILA - The South China Sea must remain open to international navigation despite unresolved disputes in the resource rich waters, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday.
Speaking to ABS-CBN News’ Cathy Yang in an exclusive interview, Mahathir said continued freedom of navigation in the waters would mean China’s assertion of its claims “will not affect” the region so much.
“I think whatever may be the claim of China, the most important thing is that South China Sea must be open to navigation. There should be no restrictions, no sanctions. If that happens, the claims made by China will not affect us every much. And I think China also wants to keep the seas open because it is this trading route for China,” said the Malaysian leader, who is on a 2-day official visit in Manila.
He urged continued talks with China and was agreeable to sharing possible economic benefits from the waters, saying this would be “far better than confrontations.”
“So we have to talk to China on the definition of their claims and what is meant by, well, their so-called ownership that they claim to have so that we can find ways of deriving some benefits,” he said.
Malaysia is among claimants to part of the South China Sea, along with the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan, contending with China’s assertion of ownership over nearly all the waters.
China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where claimants Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines belong, have been holding talks towards the crafting of a code of conduct to govern the waters.
China has been ramping up island-building and militarization activities in the South China Sea, ignoring an international tribunal’s invalidation of its 9-dash line claim in 2016, a ruling that favored a Philippine complaint.
The Philippines, under President Rodrigo Duterte, has set aside the ruling in pursuit of closer economic ties with China.