TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said that the role of ASEAN in Malaysia remains a talking point, including the role of China in ASEAN. China has a high interest in South China Sea and ASEAN still needs to attempt to issue a code of conduct that will regulate the vital waterways.
"If ASEAN centrality is strong, there will be no one or two country that conducte bilateral negotiation with China [in relation to South China Sea dispute]. What happens will be 10 ASEAN member states discussing with China," Saifuddin said on Saturday, July 20, 2019, at the general lecture event at the Paramadina University in Jakarta.
South China Sea and the Spratly Islands remains as disputed waters being contested, including by Malaysia. Therefore, ASEAN maritime issues is considerably large because it concerns security. However, Saifuddin reiterated that the sea should not be seen as a separator, but needs to be viewed as a unification factor. Therefore, Malaysia wanted to focus on maritime cooperation for solidarity.
Tension at the South China Sea become a major concern after Vietnam stated to China to remove its oil exploration ship located close to the Spratly Islands.
"In the last few days, Chinese ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 conducting survey and some more ships escorting it has conducted activities in the southern part of the East Sea [another name for the South China Sea] and this has hurt the Vietnam exclusive economic zone. This area is located within the Vietnam waters," said Vietnam Foreign Minister Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang, as quoted from Al Jazeera.com on Saturday, July 20, 2019.
In its statement, Vietnam, which is a member of ASEAN, demanded China to stop any activities and demanded its ships to move from Vietnam's territorial waters. Hong Kong Newspaper South China Morning Post reported on July 12 that six coastal guard ships, two from China and four from Vietnam, were seen observing each other in early July 2019.