By Tariq Ismail

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--The South China Sea is among the world’s most dangerous flash points. The escalation of disputes in the area could cause major problems to international trades and stability of coastal states in the region.
The presence of naval ships, some almost permanently based and some deployed as thematic exercises posed potential threats to peace and stability in the region.
The latest we are witnessing is the USA, Great Britain, Germany, Holland and India carrying out exercises called "Freedom of Navigation" through the South China Sea.
On 31st July, it was reported in various news outlets that the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy flagship the HMS Queen Elizabeth and its strike group (which includes 10 United States Marine Corps F35 jet fighters) have entered the South China Sea.
Following the US and UK pivot to Asia, we see India joining the fray. As part of their commitment to the Quad Alliance, India will be deploying four warships into the South China Sea for what they claim as "these maritime initiatives enhance synergy and coordination between the Indian Navy and friendly countries, based on common maritime interests and commitment towards Freedom of Navigation at sea”.
This move by India will next be followed by the deployment of the Deutsche Marine frigate Bayern.
The South China Sea is a major route for global trade. International trade passing through the SCS ranged between US$5.3 trillion [2010] and US$3.37 trillion [2016]. Trade with the US alone accounted for US$1.2 trillion average annually.
The South China Sea region has proven oil reserves of around 1.2 km³ (7.7 billion barrels). It is estimated that there are 4.5 km³ (28 billion barrels) in total. Natural gas reserves are estimated to total around 7,500 km³ (266 trillion cubic feet).
Given these rich natural resources nations would naturally aim to exploit them. Given the rapid improvement in technological knowhow even the high seas would be explored and exploited. Therefore, there must be a way to keep the region peaceful and stable.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) gives coastal states the rights to claim sovereignty over territorial sea area up to 12 nautical miles measured from the baseline. Beyond that 12 nautical miles limit but not more than 200 nautical miles, coastal states may claim their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf.
China’s claim on the South China Sea based on “historic rights” must be viewed in the context of international norms and practices.
Claiming the whole of SCS [the nine dashes] means putting aside the legitimate rights and interests of smaller states. It means denying their rights to the Exclusive Economic Zone as defined by the UNCLOS [1982]. International norms and practices uphold that the interests of independent sovereign states such as Brunei, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam are respected.
Nonetheless, while regional claimants exert their interests, the South China Sea should be treated in the manner that all others [external powers] can also have their own interests in access, mobility, and participation in the use of the South China Sea area.
For the maintenance of peace and stability and to ensure that international trades continue unhindered, the international community and particularly the coastal states must insist for a full abidance, by all nations, to the UNCLOS and the system of international maritime law built around it.
The idea of ZOPFAN, which is generally forgotten today, needs to be re-energise to serve the region as a means to further guarantee peace and stability.
*Tariq Ismail Mustafa heads Pejuang's Foreign Affairs Bureau*