Maritime security was first coined by the U.S. back in 2004 when they launched its national Maritime Security Policy. It is the latest widely used argot within the international relationship ambits to reflect security issues ranging from piracy in international trade to interstate tension in regions such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The argot maritime security like any other international argot pulls attention to new challenges and rallies support for these. Talks of maritime security often refer to threats within the maritime domain that range from human trafficking, kidnapping for ransom and piracy among others (Feldt et al.). The argument is then that maritime security ought to be outlined because of the absence of those threats.
This laundry list approach to shaping maritime security has been criticized as scarce since it will neither prioritise problems, nor provide clues whether it’s interlinked, nor outlines how these threats may be addressed. Despite such a wide scope of inclusion on the use of maritime security it still fails to receive international consensus on the argot exact definition. Different interpretation results in the lack of support towards regional maritime security, orders at sea, various conflicting and overlapping maritime jurisdiction as well as regional naval activities. There are reports of state actors taking advantage of this lack of definition and using different interpretation to gain a territorial advantage at sea.
Malaysia is located between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea on one side, and the Indian Ocean and the Malacca Straits on the other, making it a country located in the middle of Southeast Asia. Its geographical feature positions Malaysia as a continental-rooted maritime nation, the linchpin bridge between the two ocean regions (“Defence White Paper”). This undoubtedly indicates that Malaysia priority will be placed upon matters pertaining maritime domain and maritime security.
The contemporaneous security threat is South China Sea has shown that maritime security is no longer just about contemporary security but has escalated into traditional security. This can be seen from the building of artificial island in the South China Sea and the increased physical presence of Big Power and their allies within the area. The incident in May 2020, otherwise known as West Capella, has been the talk of the region, especially in the field of maritime security. However due to a positive bilateral backdoor diplomacy the Chinese Haiyang Dizhi 8 survey ship has left the exclusive economic zone of Malaysia (EEZ) shortly after without any negative incident.
Furthermore, it is not the Chinese ships but the Vietnamese fishing boat have the largest number of ship that has breached Malaysia’s territory. From 2006 until 2019, a total of 748 vessels and 7,203 Vietnamese crew members were arrested. Compared to the 89 occasions that Chinese Coast Guard boats have been found to have breached the country’s waters, this is a far higher figure (“Laporan Ketua Audit Negara 2018 Siri 3”). Hence, the fishing boat from Vietnam is a much larger economic threat relative to the presence of survey vessels in China. The region’s overfishing has arisen as a significant threat to food security. Fish populations have decreased by one-third over the past 30 years and are predicted to drop a further 59% by 2045 if existing activities continue. The IUU issue not only affects Malaysia, but among other coastal states within ASEAN, it has also affected food security.
The effort to overcome IUU began back in 2011, when ASEAN Member States (AMSs) requested the Department of Development and Management of the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Centre for Marine Fisheries Resources (SEAFDEC) to provide assistance leading to the Joint ASEAN-SEAFDEC Declaration on Regional Cooperation for Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Enhancing the Competitiveness of ASEAN Fish and Fishery Products being adopted in 2016 (“Joint ASEAN-SEAFDEC Declaration On Regional Cooperation For Combating Illegal, Unreported And Unregulated (IUU) Fishing And Enhancing The Competitiveness Of ASEAN Fish And Fishery Products“). As different IUU initiatives have been adopted and established, the declaration is remembered as ASEAN’s turning point. Most recently, at the 42nd meeting of the ASEAN Ministers for Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) on 21 October 2020, the Cooperation Framework on ASEAN Network for Combating Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated (IUU) Fishing was adopted.
The issue of IUU fishing in its waters, especially in the South China Sea, should be resolved among the AMSs. The AMSs should investigate how the coastal states in the Mediterranean Sea and Australia are overcoming their loss of food protection in their waters and improve current initiatives. AMSs should also investigate the investment and discussion of IUU fishing cooperation within the reach of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by including the ASEAN Political Security Community in their efforts. This would make it easier for AMSs to collaborate even more in relation to the current situation in the South China Sea, as well as to reduce the presence of outside influence.