Thursday, November 12, 2009

China offers help on straits security

Chinese President Hu Jintao has reiterated his country’s long-held desire to help with the security of one of the world’s most important waterways — the Straits of Malacca.

China would like to work with Singapore, which is one of the littoral states of the sea lane, to “ensure the safety of the Straits of Malacca”, he told Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during their meeting, Chinese delegation spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said at a media briefing.

The protection of the critical waterway was one of several security-related areas which China would like to cooperate with Singapore on, said Ma. The rest include counter-terrorism and maritime search and rescue.

The Malacca Straits has become a major concern in recent years for China as the growing regional power broadens its search for energy resources to feed a buzzing economy.

With more than 60 per cent of China’s crude oil imports passing through the straits on their way from the Middle East, the narrow and congested waterway is becoming increasingly important strategically to Beijing.

The Chinese government fears rival powers may starve it of its energy resources by controlling the strait in the event of a security crisis.

State-run China Youth Daily went as far as to argue in 2004 that “it is no exaggeration to say that whoever controls the Straits of Malacca will also have a stranglehold on the energy route of China”.

Hu himself had said in 2003 that “certain major powers” were bent on controlling the waterway.

Other powers such as the United States, Japan and India have also offered to help in the security of the Malacca Straits, but littoral states Malaysia and Indonesia have rejected the idea of external countries stationing military forces permanently in the waterway.

Besides defence cooperation, Hu listed five other areas in which Singapore and China could work together, including economic tie-ups, cultural exchanges and international cooperation at forums like Apec.

A channel which must be maintained, said Hu, is the high-level exchanges between the countries’ leaders. He called it a “key feature” of Sino-Singapore relations and the foundation for strong bilateral relations. His three-day state visit here ends today.

Ma also said Hu called for the expansion of cultural exchanges such as the tie-up between the upcoming Singapore University of Technology and Design and Zhejiang University and the setting up of the China Cultural Centre here.

But the big news of the day, noted Ma, was the sending of two pandas from China to Singapore, which Hu announced on Wednesday.

Ma said: “This is happy news and also a highlight of this trip... I saw that the panda announcement was front-page news in Singapore newspapers.

“I can see the response from the Singapore people has been tremendous. This is very significant to the strengthening of cooperation between the two countries.”

Source: Malaysian Insider

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