Malaysia has also given China access to its naval bases, including the submarine base at Sepanggar. Favourable access to ports along the crucial Malacca Straits has always been a strategic objective of China as it seeks to project its naval power into the Indian Ocean and beyond.
I think Denis might have gone too far in his allegations about China using Malaysian naval bases.
News media The Diplomat in its article on same subject but titled Why Did China's Navy Gain Use of a Malaysia Port Near the South China Sea? dated Nov 2015 stated 'The recent move needs to be put in proper perspective.'
Prashant Parameswaran the author of article wrote:
Few specifics have been made publicly available about the pact itself. But Malaysian media reports indicate that an agreement was made by the two sides to give China stopover access to the port of Kota Kinabalu to strengthen defense ties between both countries.
First, it is important to stress that this kind of port access is a pretty routine affair. In general, allowing a ship to dock at a port for a break to load or unload, obtain supplies, or undergo repairs is a fairly standard process.
The idea of Chinese ships at Kota Kinabalu is also not new. Back in August 2013, the Zhenghe, a PLAN training vessel, had already docked at the harbor in Kota Kinabalu to begin a five-day goodwill visit to the country. So, if anything, the agreement represents the formalization of access rather than some sort of groundbreaking entry.
Second, such port access is not equivalent to basing rights, contrary to what some reports have suggested.
An access agreement would allow the Chinese navy to dock for a break in Kota Kinabalu for the various reasons cited above – nothing more. Equating this as part of some Chinese ‘basing strategy’ is rather dubious.
In addition to being out of step with Malaysian foreign policy which avoids too close of an alignment with any major power, it would also be a tad bit strange to allow a foreign country who has outstanding disputes with Malaysia to have a base there since Kota Kinabalu also houses Malaysia’s regional naval headquarters and the country’s submarine base (See: “Malaysia Eyes Submarine Base Expansion Near South China Sea”).
Third, this port access is not something that has only been given to China. As Abdul Aziz, the then-Malaysian naval chief, emphasized to Malaysia’s national news agency Bernama, a number of other countries including the United States and France have already previously docked in the Malaysian port.
In fact, before conducting the recent U.S. freedom of navigation operation within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s controversial man-made islands in the South China Sea on October 27, the USS Lassen had docked in Kota Kinabalu for a regular port visit on October 19 after a routine South China Sea patrol.
How, then, should we read Malaysia’s granting of port access to China? According to Abdul Aziz himself, the move was part of a broader effort to enhance defense relations between the two countries’ navies to “overcome problems and issues relating to overlapping border claims.” He was no doubt referring to the South China Sea disputes, in which both China and Malaysia are claimants.
His comments are consistent with Malaysia’s broader approach to China and the South China Sea, which I have explored in detail previously (See: “Malaysia’s South China Sea Approach: Playing it Safe”).
Despite bolder and more frequent Chinese incursions into its waters and some adjustments, Malaysia is determined to manage the South China Sea dispute while keeping its overall relationship with China intact, including in the defense realm (See: “How is Malaysia Responding to China’s South China Sea Intrusion?”).
Just last year, Malaysia and China carried out their first ever joint military exercise (See: “Malaysia, China Begin First Joint Military Exercise”). That was expanded significantly this year (See: “China, Malaysia to Hold First Ever Joint Live Troop Exercise”).
In that vein, the aim of granting port access to countries including China, a Malaysian official familiar with the matter told The Diplomat, is meant to function more as a confidence-building measure amid outstanding disputes. Abdul Aziz himself spelled out how this might work, noting that allowing Beijing such access would also provide an opportunity to learn from Chinese methods of operation and about Chinese submarines that could be docking there.
This, he said, was in line with the government’s aspiration to adopt the best solution to secure peace and security in the South China Sea. While one might not be convinced about the wisdom of such an approach, it is nonetheless one Malaysia has chosen to adopt.
As for Denis Ignatius' allegations about China's access to Malaysian ports along the Malacca Straits, let's review what was written in Singapore's The Starits Times. An extract of its article Malacca harbour plan raises questions about China's strategic aims published on 14 Nov 2016 follows:
An artist's impression of the Melaka Gateway joint venture, which is part of a wider port alliance between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing to increase bilateral trade and boost shipping and logistics along China's Maritime Silk Road.PHOTO: MELAKA GATEWAY
A RM43 billion (S$14 billion) harbour being developed in Malacca aims to overtake Singapore as the largest port in the region, but questions are being raised about the need for the added capacity and whether China's eager participation has to do with good business or its crucial strategic interests in the Malacca Strait.
For China, not only does most of its trade pass through the Malacca Strait, but so does up to 80 per cent of its energy needs. This prompted then President Hu Jintao to make the "Malacca Dilemma" a key strategic issue as far back as 2003.
"There is the strategic element of the Malacca Strait. It always starts with an economic presence, which can develop into a naval one, because China will be obliged to ensure the safe passage of its commercial ships," said Dr Johan Saravanamuttu of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who studies the Malaysia-China relationship.
The Melaka Gateway joint venture is part of a wider port alliance between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing to increase bilateral trade and boost shipping and logistics along China's much-vaunted Maritime Silk Road.
Chinese firm Guangxi Beibu International Port Group already owns 40 per cent of Kuantan port, which faces the disputed waters of the South China Sea, and 49 per cent of the Kuantan Industrial Park in Pahang, the home state of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The Malaysian authorities are talking up the game-changing Melaka Gateway deal between little-known KAJ Developments and energy giant PowerChina International, which will form a joint venture and spend RM30 billion to reclaim three islands off Malacca's coast. The entire Gateway development will be completed in 2025 but the deep-sea port is expected to be ready by 2019. The Malaysian government hopes to attract the bulk of 100,000 vessels, most of them Chinese, that ply the Malacca Strait annually.
Some industry players have expressed concern about the cannibalising of existing ports along the strait, especially in the light of Singapore's own port expansion.
But let's get down to brass tacks. Porting at a civilian port like KK or the futuristic Melaka port is hardly giving China access to RMN naval bases.
Malaysia has long already provided such access to other navies eg. visit by USN aircraft carriers to Port Klang like USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) aircraft carrier in Oct 2010 and USS George Washington (CVN 73) in Oct 2012, and on the other side of the 'pond' in KK by guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108) on 21 Feb 2018, just more than a month ago.
USS Abraham Lincoln
USS George Washington
USS Wayne E. Meyer
Now, did those visits by USN naval war ships constitute Malaysia giving the USA access to our naval bases? Perhaps Denis Ignatius can provide his opinion on our strategic-military allegiance vis-a-vis the USA, China and maybe even Japan and Russia? And please don't omit our relationship with the Austrian (not Australian) navy.
Perhaps he can also reveal his source of reliable information on such an important strategic-military-national security-international-political issue as giving China access to our naval bases, otherwise I would have to treat it as speculative scare-mongering or in today's parlance, another 'crispy rendang' (or if you like, GST-ed kerang and kembong), wakakaka.
hoe liao man