Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick made some progress on multiple fronts recently during his trip to Malaysia. Malaysia performed a diplomatic 180-degree turn by now welcoming a US military presence in the Malacca Strait to help decrease rampant piracy. This is important on multiple fronts:
- 25% of the worlds oil is shipped through the Malacca Strait (Map here)
- This will decrease the possibility of terrorists hijacking an oil tanker and using it as a large bomb or potential ecological disaster
- China's oil passes through this region, and China has a host of land disputes over the Spratley Islands and Paracel Islands with Vietnam, Philippines, and Malaysia. This provides a strategic opportunity to have a legitimate military right to patrol this area, vital to Chinese national security.
Here is the Asia Pacific News account of Mr. Zoellick's successful diplomacy.
"The United States offered to help ensure security in the pirate-plagued Malacca Strait as it renewed a defence pact with Malaysia, Defence Minister Najib Razak said.
US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick made the offer after witnessing the renewal of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), a 10-year military logistics cooperation pact. 'Zoellick was very pleased with the level of cooperation given by Malaysia in the field of tackling terrorism, especially in our Counter Terrorism Centre, our domestic efforts to eliminate terrorism and our role in the region to reduce terrorism and conflicts,' Najib said.
Zoellick had also touched on the sensistive issue of security in the Malacca Strait, where pirate attacks have raised fears terrorists could hijack an oil tanker and use it as an enormous bomb.
Najib said Zoellick had offered help which would not undermine the sovereignty of the three states bordering the busy shipping lane - Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
Malaysia has in the past rejected suggestions that the US or other foreign navies be allowed to help patrol the strait.
"It (the United States) wants to help out without affecting the sovereignty of the states, and the US recognises that they do not want to undermine the principles of sovereignty in this area," Najib was quoted as saying by the official Bernama news agency.
"In what way and what areas they want to help is for the US to consider," he said.
The Malacca Strait is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, funnelling about a quarter of the world's trade, or 50,000 vessels a year."
Quite a political and military coup, I would say, of US foreign policy in Asia, even though the NYT editorial board does not seem to be following it.