Singapore - The fight against piracy in the Malacca Strait has long been hampered by the three littoral states' reluctance to embrace any form of cooperation - both among themselves and with outside powers - that may undermine their sovereignty. But this may change as Asian countries, including the littoral states of Indonesia,Malaysia and Singapore, move closer towards a consensus on how to deal with maritime security in the piracy-prone sea lane.
According to Singapore Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean, the emerging consensus is based on three principles: The three littoral states would be responsible for security in the Malacca Strait; the international community and user states have a role to play; and security measures have to comply with international law and respect the sovereignty of the littoral states.
"With these parameters...it gives us a lot of room to devise useful, practical and creative solutions to see how we can improve security in the strait," said Mr Teo on June 4 during the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia's only forum where defence ministers, policy-makers and security analysts gather to debate security issues. The three-day forum was attened by delegates from 20 countries, including US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The need for security in the Malacca Strait to be beefed up was also acknowledged by Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Razak at the forum.
He said the United States and Japan could play a bigger role in protecting the strait but added that any international cooperation must not impinge on the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the littoral states.
One form of outside assistance that Mr Najib had in mind was "eyes in the sky", whereby the hardware could be supplied by the international community but the consoles would be operated by the littoral states.
He also reiterated Malaysia's long-standing opposition to joint patrols along the Malacca Strait, saying that Malaysia, for now, is comfortable with existing coordinated patrols. The latter allows security forces in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia to extend help to each other while staying put in their own territorial waters.
* Asian states now closer on Strait security (The Sunday Times, June 5)
* Malaysia welcomes support in Straits security (New Straits Times, June 6)