The Associated Press MANILA (AP) — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday that China should define its “so-called ownership” in the disputed South China Sea so other claimant countries can start to gain benefits from the resource-rich waters.
Mahathir stressed the importance of freedom of navigation in the busy waterway, saying in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel in Manila that if there were no restrictions and sanctions, “the claims made by China will not affect us very much.”
Malaysia, the Philippines, China and three other governments have been locked in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea. China has claimed virtually the entire sea but has refused to define the extent of its claims except for a vague line with nine dashes on its maps, complicating the disputes.
Efforts by the Philippines, for example, to explore for undersea deposits of oil and natural gas in Reed Bank west of its Palawan island province have been stymied for years by Chinese protests and claims to the offshore region. The Philippines has declared a moratorium on exploration in the area in the past because of Chinese threats.
“We have to talk to China on the definition of their claims and what is meant by their ownership or so-called ownership they claim to have so that we can find ways of deriving some benefits from them,” Mahathir said.
“I think that whatever may be the claim of China, the most important thing is that the South China Sea in particular must be open to navigation,” Mahathir said. “There should be no restriction, no sanction, and if that happens, then I think the claims made by China will not affect us very much.”
During talks in Manila between the visiting Malaysian leader and President Rodrigo Duterte, the territorial conflicts were high in the agenda.