The simmering tensions between China and a number of other countries over the South China Sea dispute can be addressed by removing warships from the region, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has suggested. He proposed a multi-nation force of small vessels to protect the shipping lanes in the region from pirates.
Mohamad, who recently returned to power, addressed the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, with the US and China taking turns sending warships on patrols through the waterway.
"I think there should not be too many warships. Warships create tension. Someday, somebody might make some mistakes and there will be a fight, some ships will be lost, and there might even be a war. We don't want that," he said, in an interview to South China Morning Post (SCMP), the Hing Kong-based English daily.
"But you need to have small boats to make sure the sea is safe from pirates and that the countries in Southeast Asia and China and other countries in the East can cooperate to keep the seas safe for the ships to pass through," Mohamad added.
He said the ASEAN countries had high stakes in keeping the South China Sea free of pirates, and suggested they could take the lead in a joint anti-piracy force. "But if China wants to participate with small boats, they are welcome. Anybody, even the US, if they want to participate, but don't bring battleships here," he said.
Mohamad expressed confidence that it was not Chinese President Xi Jinping's intention to prevent ships of other countries from passing through the Malacca Strait or the South China Sea. "I think it is to the benefit of China to have the seas open, because then, there will be more trade. You can't expect all the goods going to China to change into Chinese ships before entering the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea… The sea must always be open," he said.
Malaysia is one of the victims of China's expansionist claims in the South China Sea. It holds some of the islands in the Spratly Islands chain, which lies off the coast of East Malaysia on the island of Borneo.