Beijing wants to apply the Duterte Model of finding a solution to its South China Sea disputes with Malaysia. Negotiating a bilateral deal with Kuala Lumpur, that is, rather than a multilateral deal that could involve all countries having an interest in the region.
That’s according to an article that appeared in The South China Morning Post, which claims that “Beijing is pushing for mechanism like it has with Manila… rather than go directly to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.”
It won’t work.
Back in July 2016, Manila won an international tribunal arbitration ruling, which determined that China has no historic title over the South China Sea waters.
That was a big victory for both the Philippines, which had filed the arbitration case, and its close ally the U.S., which wants those waterways to be an open sea.
Nonetheless, President Rodrigo Duterte didn’t follow through with the international tribunal decision. To the shock of the international community, he sided with the Philippines’ “friend,” China in the dispute, and sought to solve it with bilateral negotiations.
Why? Apparently President Duterte was concerned that his country would face war with China if he had tried to enforce the international tribunal ruling. Meanwhile, he was lured by Beijing’s promise to provide funding for Duterte’s Build! Build! Build! infrastructure projects.
The trouble for Beijing is that Duterte’s Model of “peace” is no longer valid. Early this month, the Philippines high court instructed key government agencies, like the Philippine Navy, police and the Coast Guard, to do what President Rodrigo Duterte should have done three years ago: protect reefs and marine life in Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad isn’t blinking in the face of China’s hardcore-softcore diplomacy, as President Rodrigo Duterte did. While he needs China’s investments to build its country’s infrastructure, he wants it to happen on his own terms and conditions, as discussed in a previous piece here.
That’s why his government doesn’t seem too anxious to pursue the Duterte Model. The South China Morning Post article quotes Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah saying that “Malaysia is sticking to Asian-centric ways of dealing with China on the South China Sea.”
Besides, the Malaysian Prime Minister has his own model for resolving South China Sea disputes, the “Mahathir Doctrine,” which asserts that the way to ensure peace in the South China Sea is to keep the disputed area’s sea free of warships.
Is China ready to abide by this doctrine?