Malaysia must defend its territory, deputy PM says amid South China Sea row

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the country must defend itself against any encroachment on its territory, amid growing regional tensions over Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.

“If our country is threatened or being encroached, we Malaysians should rise to defend our country,” Ahmad Zahid said at a meeting in Kota Kinabalu, the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.

“The international community should see this is not just a matter of economy but sovereignty,” he said.

“South China Sea is only the name, but 200 nautical miles in the exclusive economic zone is under our borders.”

Beijing claims almost all of the resource-rich South China Sea, and has been reclaiming land and building on disputed islands and reefs. Chinese maps show a nine-dash line demarcating the territory it considers its own.

Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei also claim parts of the sea as their territory.

The Philippines has taken China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, although Beijing refuses to recognize the court’s authority.

“China’s nine-dash line claim is expansive, excessive and has no basis under international law,” Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said earlier this week.

Indonesia has also said it could take Beijing to an international court if talks over disputed islands are unsuccessful.

Malaysia will later this month host a meeting of the Association of South East Asian Nations, which will be attended by China, the US and other world powers.