Friday, June 25, 2004

Dispute in Malacca Strait: The presence of US and sovereignty issues

According to the Sudha Ramachandran in its article "Divisions over terror threat in Malacca Straits" about the cuurent division in the strait and its political dynamic across the region.

A terrorist strike in the 630-mile-long Malacca Straits would severely dislocate world trade for months. A quarter of the world's commerce passes through this waterway, including 10 million barrels of crude oil heading daily from the Persian Gulf toward China, South Korea and Japan. About 80 percent of Japan's oil passes through the Malacca Straits. Closure of the Straits in the event of a terrorist attack would require ships to travel an additional 994 miles from the Gulf. Freight rates would increase sharply. In all, the Straits accounts for a third of the world's trade and half of the world's oil supply.

The security situation in the Malacca Straits has always been a matter of concern. For centuries, it has been a haven for pirates. It is a narrow waterway - just 1.5 miles wide at its narrowest point. Choking the Straits by blowing up a ship would not be difficult. Besides, its shallow reefs, innumerable islets and the slow movement of ships thanks to the heavy traffic in the waterway provide the perfect environment for pirates and terrorists to operate, making it a tempting target.

With the threaten of the terroism in the region, Singapore’s intention of bringing in the United States to patrol the Malacca Straits faced with strong objections from Indonesia and Malaysia. The island state has been forced to consider the second best, namely calling for other major countries sharing a stake in the treacherous waters to join in the patrol effort, which could include China, India, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Indeed, allowing the US troops to be stationed in the Malacca Straits would, as far as Washington sees it, be a strategy that serves multiple purposes. It could undermine China’s diplomatic endeavor in Southeast Asia, nib in the bud India’s ambition of expanding its navy eastward, killing off Russia’s dream of forging closer ties with Asean, put Japan under US perpetual subjugation, and ensure that the entire Southeast Asia be a sphere of US influence.

This is the dynamic of the foreign affairs of the countries in Southeast Asia and the China, Russia, India, Australia and US in the region. Furthermore, the Southeast Asia already been declared by the US as the second front in the war on terror. The US presence in the Southeast Asia is not something new. Philippine and Singapore are the two close allies of the US in the region.

Of course the sovereignty issues always be the illusion of the ruling party to gain the national supports. Most of the governments like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand against the presence of US mainly because of the consideration of the people objection in the region. The Malaysia government position on the presence of US in the Malacca Strait seems change.

For example, the Malaysian government already be one of the members in Five Power Defense Arrangement - which groups Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Singapore and Malaysia.

We shall always keep our eyes on the presence of the US in the Southeast Asia together with the government manipulation on the nationalism sentiments. The opposition to the US dominant in the region by the government really need to be examined.