Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said China should define its “so-called ownership” in the disputed South China Sea so other claimant countries can start to gain benefits from the resource-rich waters.
Mahathir stressed in an interview with ABS-CBN network in Manila on Thursday the importance of freedom of navigation in the busy sea lanes, saying if there were no restrictions “the claims made by China will not affect us very much”.
Malaysia, the Philippines, China, and three other governments have been locked in long-seething territorial disputes in the waterway.
China has warned that it is not prepared to give up a “single” inch of the waters, and describes them as the legacy of its ancestors.
Its stance has also agitated the United States which has sent its navy vessels through the sea in a bid to curtail Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation there.
China’s foreign ministry has, in the past, strongly condemned the US’s presence in the waters and urged Washington to stop such “provocative” actions and to “immediately correct its mistakes”.
Mahathir is visiting Manila for talks with President Rodrigo Duterte and other top officials, who are expected to thank Malaysia for brokering peace talks between the Philippine government and Muslim rebels, who have become governors of a new Muslim autonomous region.