Wise, balanced comments on S. China Sea by former minister

I had always been puzzled by China's stand in the South China Sea, as the disputed islands are so far away from the mainland, until I read former foreign minister George Yeo's clear and balanced comments ("Legality of China's claims in South China Sea 'not weak'"; last Friday).

Mr Yeo cited Beijing's assertions that its claims in the contested waters date back to the Qing dynasty and the fact that countries did not earlier object to China when it drew the controversial nine-dash line to mark a large swathe of the areas in the South China Sea that it claims.

I also found in my own research that after the Japanese surrender during World War II, the disputed islands were handed over to the Chinese Kuomintang government on Taiping Island.

All this illustrates that China's actions in the South China Sea are not those of a bully, something I had previously believed.

As Mr Yeo is a former minister for foreign affairs, his statement that "China's claims are not weak" carries weight.

With the United States' involvement, the Asean claimant countries have better negotiating power with China.

But if the US is too close, South-east Asia runs the risk of being, as Mr Yeo says, pawns on a chessboard.

As a citizen of Malaysia, one of the claimant countries, I fervently hope the leaders of these countries have the wisdom to gain economic benefits from both China and the US, and, at the same time, preserve peace and stability in Asia.

Sim Lim Onn

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Wise, balanced comments on S. China Sea by former minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe