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Malacca Straits Security - US pledges to stay out

Updated On: May 23, 2006

The United States aims to step up the number of submarines and aircraft carriers in Asian waters to patrol the region and ensure security, but pledged not to interfere in efforts by MalaysiaIndonesia and Singapore to combat piracy and terrorism in the Straits of Malacca.

“It is clear to us the prosperity of [the] economy in the region depends on security,” said the US Pacific Naval Fleet Commander, Admiral Gary Roughead, in explanation of the move to increase US patrols in Asian waters.  Roughead added the US does not intend to interfere with countries in the Pacific region, but did however say that countries in the region should strengthen their ability to face submarine attacks that could threaten international trade routes such as the MalaccaStrait

The narrow, strategic waterway links Asia with the Middle East and Europe and carries some 50,000 vessels a year, or some 40 per cent of the world’s trade.  It is one of the busiest, but also most pirate-infested shipping lanes in the world.  The London insurance market classed the Malacca Strait a 'war risk' zone last year and added it to a list of 21 other areas deemed high risk and vulnerable to war, strikes and terrorism.

Any fears of implications of the US move on the states surrounding the Straits of Malacca were laid to rest as the Roughead reiterated that the US respected the sovereignty of the littoral states and their rights and jurisdiction within the Straits of Malacca, and it had no intention of breaching the assurance. 

In 2004, US officials had reportedly proposed a plan to send an elite unit to help secure the strait.  Both Malaysia and Indonesia had said they would reject any such suggestion. 

Instead, MalaysiaSingapore and Indonesia launched coordinated maritime patrols in the strait in mid-2004, and air patrols last year. 

Malaysia, which formally established a coast guard in March, faces the biggest maritime threat of piracy on its side of the strait.  During talks between Roughead and Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak last week, Roughead shared his view that the US is satisfied with Malaysia’s efforts in keeping the Straits of Malacca secure from threats.  Najib, who is also Defence Minister, also reiterated that Malaysia was willing to cooperate with the US to boost regional security through the sharing of intelligence, technical courses and seminars.

Meanwhile, Thailand turned down a Malaysian request yesterday to join in regional patrols of the Malacca Strait because it was too expensive, a military chief said.  Thai armed forces chief General Ruengroj Mahasaranond told his Malaysian counterpart that Bangkok felt distant from the strait, and that it was not worth sending their ships and planes there because the costs would be extraordinary.

Sources:

US satisfied with efforts to keep Malacca Straits safe (The Star, May 19)

US ‘to stay out of Malacca Strait’ (Straits Times, 19 May 2006)

More US patrols in Asian waters (Reuters/Bernama/ST, May 20)

Thais rebuffs Malacca Strait joint air patrols (Reuters/The Star, May 19)