KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia on Thursday called for a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea disputes while maintaining its firm stance in defending its sovereign rights over its territory in the highly contentious waters.
"Malaysia maintains its position that all parties must work together to ensure peace, security and stability in the South China Sea," Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement in response to the US announcement of a tougher stance against Beijing's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
"Matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully based on the universally recognized principles of international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982," he added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a statement Monday said China's claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea "are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them."
Beijing has rebutted Pompeo's remarks as "completely unjustified" and accused the United States of interference.
Hishammuddin said Malaysia hopes for continued discussion to conclude an "effective and substantive Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that would encompass elements which reflect the rights and interests of all parties."
The Code of Conduct is a set of norms and rules covering permissible action in the contested waters that is being discussed between China and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations with a deadline set for 2022.
Meantime, Hishammuddin also stressed, as claimant state, Malaysia maintains its stance to "safeguard our sovereignty, sovereign rights and interests in the South China Sea."
Malaysia and three other ASEAN members -- Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei -- have staked claims over various parts of the South China Sea along with China and Taiwan.
Unlike Vietnam and the Philippines that have publicly rebuked China over a series of incursions into its maritime territory, with the latter even taking Beijing to the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Malaysia has opted for quiet diplomacy and rarely spoke about the incursions until Tuesday.
A national audit report released then revealed that between 2016 and 2019, Chinese coast guard and navy vessels encroached into Malaysia's maritime zone 89 times and it responded by issuing five diplomatic protest notes that failed to stop further encroachments.
The Chinese vessels were detected near Luconia Shoals that are claimed by Malaysia, being just 84 nautical miles from the coast of Sarawak, Malaysia's state in the Borneo.
Weighing in on the issue, former Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, in a statement Thursday, urged the government to take a tougher stance against China over the maritime disputes.
He claimed that the Chinese coast guard vessels have been sighted near Luconia Shoals up until this month.
"As a country that legitimately owns maritime areas in the South China Sea, the government should not be hesitant to categorically state its objection to any unauthorized activities by foreign vessels within its maritime areas," he said.
Anifah added that the ministry should at least summon China's ambassador to Malaysia to register its displeasure.