KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia has rejected China's expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea in a rare public rebuke of its largest trading partner.
The government made a submission to the United Nations two weeks ago on its rights over the remaining portion of a continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles from the country's baselines, Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told Parliament yesterday.
The move was in response to a similar claim China made to the UN on Dec 12, he said.
"Malaysia opposes China's claim that they have historic rights over those waters," said Datuk Seri Hishammuddin, adding: "The Malaysian government also considers China's claims over maritime features in the South China Sea to have no basis whatsoever under international law."
The rebuke is an unusual move for Malaysia, which had previously avoided reproaching China openly by reiterating its focus on ensuring the area remains open for trade.
Australia and the US have also rejected China's claims in the area.
China has built structures on shoals, reefs and rock outcroppings to deepen its claim over 80 per cent of the 1.4 million-sq mile waterway, with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also claiming parts of the same area.
Malaysia will remain cautious in defending its claim to avoid escalating tensions, Mr Hishammuddin said. It will keep working towards a resolution within Asean, which is holding discussions with China for a code of conduct for the area, he added.