Thursday, 31 October 2013


By M. Hanif Ismail

The local defence watchers have been arguing for the setting up of a Marine Corps for quite some time, although perhaps the sentiment is driven more by the sense of “keeping up with the Joneses” rather than any actual need.

However,  with the recent announcement by Malaysia’s new Defence Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, that dream is perhaps now closer to reality than ever before.

Many are linking this announcement to the Lahad Datu standoff. Perhaps it is, or perhaps it is driven more by the need to safeguards our claims to parts of the Spratly islands, as outlined in Peta Baru Malaysia 1979. This theory tie with another item announced by Hishammuddin, which is the setting of a new naval base in Bintulu, Sarawak. 


China is increasingly being assertive with its claims to the whole of Spratly islands. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) was recorded to have visited Beting Serupai (James Shoal), the southernmost feature claimed by China in May 1983, again in 1994 and most recently in March 26, 2013. The country’s Marine Surveillance Ship-83 has also placed a sovereign stele into the water area of the shoal on April 20, 2010.  

The naval task force taking part in the latest visit consisted of 1x Yuzhao-class LPD, Jinggang Shan (999), 1x Luyang II-class DDG, Lanzhou (170), and 2x Jiangkai II-class FFG, Yulin (569) and Hengshui (572). Things to note, all of the ships involved are: part of the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet, very modern, all are less than 10 years old (three are less than 5 years old), and most importantly – this small taskforce of four ships have enough firepower among them to challenge almost any of the other claimants’ navies. 

Another important thing to note is, unlike many other features of Spratly islands, there are only three claimants for Beting Serupai: China, Taiwan and Malaysia. In other words, if the March amphibious exercise was a show of power by PLAN, it is pretty clear which country this show was intended for, as Beting Serupai is only 80km northwest of Bintulu.

China is an important trading partner for Malaysia: it is ranked as Malaysia’s second biggest export partner for the nation after Singapore and its biggest import partner. So perhaps it is understandable that Malaysia would not like to make too much noise publicly about China holding an amphibious exercise so near to its coastlines.

Part II will be a brief look at the establishment of Marine Corps around the region.

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