Some Asean ministers yesterday called for greater unity over the South China Sea territorial disputes, with Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein urging the grouping to get its house in order first before blaming the United States or China.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin was speaking on the sidelines of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual security forum involving military chiefs, defence policymakers and analysts.
A large part of the discussions at the forum centred on the South China Sea territorial disputes which involve overlapping claims by China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
China, which lays claim to about 80 per cent of the resource-rich waters, has in the past two years been reclaiming islands on disputed reefs to bolster its claims.
Yesterday, Mr Hishammuddin told reporters: "Even within Asean, there are duplicating claims (to the South China Sea)... We cannot just keep blaming China, or blaming US, until we get our own house in order."
IN ASEAN'S INTEREST
It is important for small countries like us in Asean to ensure that whatever we do, and whatever that is decided by the superpowers, does not leave us on the beach when the tide goes down.
MALAYSIAN DEFENCE MINISTER HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN
Earlier, at a plenary session on managing military competition in Asia which also featured as speakers Japan's Defence Minister Gen Nakatani and his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar, Mr Hishammuddin similarly urged greater cohesion among Asean.
"Someone told me a few days ago that the channels of engagement between China and the US are in the region of about 109 channels... and out of these 109 not a single one involves Malaysia," he said.
"So it is important for small countries like us in Asean to ensure that whatever we do, and whatever that is decided by the superpowers, does not leave us on the beach when the tide goes down."
His point was reinforced by Vietnam's Deputy Defence Minister Nguyen Chi Vinh, who told The Sunday Times: "Asean should have a single voice, a united voice on issues larger than South China Sea.
"It should have one single united voice on issues of development, issues of common security for the community, among other things."
Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, meanwhile, told reporters at the same event that his country supports any move from a unified Asean as long as it was made out of goodwill.