The 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone

Speech by Parliament Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang in Dewan Rakyat on the debate on the Exclusive Economic Zone Bill 1984 on October 9, 1984

On 25th April 1980, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, proclaimed a 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone from the baselines of Malaysia’s territorial waters, with

(a) Sovereign rights, for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the sea-bed and subsoil and the suprajacent waters, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water currents and winds;
(b) Jurisdiction with regard to:
(i) The establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;
(ii) Marine scientific research;
(iii) The preservation of the marine environment.

It has taken the Government more than four years to present the Exclusive Economic Zone Bill to safeguard Malaysia’s economic and environmental interests in the Exclusive Economic Zone, to regulate and prohibit activities detrimental to Malaysia’s resources rights in the Zone.

The concept of the EEZ is already recognized international law, and many countries have proclaimed some form of EEZ. The concept of EEZ was developed further in the 1982 United Nations Third Conference of the Law of the Sea Convention, which took over a decade to produce a consensus.

The DAP fully supports the establishment of the 200-mile EEZ as it will materially benefit our economy, national security and international position. It can be seen as a favourable development in the long-drawn-out attempt to balance the interests of the developed and developing countries towards a NIEO.

But we must not pretend that we do not have many problems in the protection of our legitimate economic and resource-related rights in the EEZ and our continental shelf.

I wish here to deal with the major issues and problems with regard to the EEZ and our continental shelf as well as related issues with regard to the Law of the Sea which we in Malaysia must pay close attention.


The first issue I wish to bring up is the problem of delimitation of our territorial water and zone of jurisdiction, leading to disputes over the ownership of islands especially in the South China Sea.

There are several hundred small, mainly uninhabited and uninhabitable islands, reefs and cays which include Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands, Senkaku Islands as well as the Tsegmu Reef off East Malaysia which are the subject of multiple national claims for ownership.

The territorial waters in the Sulu and Celebes Seas are undetermined because of Philippines’ claim to Sabah. Last month, on behalf of the DAP, I had publicly urged the Philippines President, Ferdinand Marcos, to honour his promise made seven years ago at the 1977 ASEAN Summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur to take definite steps to remove the Filipino claim to Sabah.

The Filipino Foreign Minister, Arturo Tolentino, claimed that his country had already dropped its Sabah claim, but this has been challenged by Wismaputra and the DAP fully supports Wismaputra’s position.

Unless Section 2 of the Republic Act No. 5446 of the Philippines or the Baseline Act of 1968 regarding Sabah as part of the Philippine territory is amended, the Philippines Government has not taken any concrete step to drop the Sabah claim.

I call on President Marcos to demonstrate Philippines’ sincerity in the comity of ASEAN nations by taking concrete action to drop the Filipino claim, which could also lead to the determination of the territorial waters in the Sulu/Celebes Seas in bilateral agreements between the two countries.

For the information of the House, the DAP Central Executive Committee at its meeting on Sunday have decided to send a formal memorandum to President Macros urging the formal dropping of the Filipino claim to Sabah.

The resolution of the disputed islands, reefs and cays in the South China Sea is going to be more complicated. Our immediate problems are:

1. China’s southernmost maritime boundary which cuts right into our oil concessions off Sabah and Sarawak;
2. Vietnam’s occupation of Amboyna Cay in 1978;
3. Philippines’ occupation of Commodore Reef and other areas south of Spratleys.

As a result of these disputes, the Malaysian Government decided in August last year to garrison Malaysian commandos at Turumbu Layang-Layang, a tiny barren atoll which shrinks to the size of three tennis courts when the tides of the South China Sea wash in over the Spratley Islands, as well as the ‘Exercise Pahlawan’ which tool six months to prepare.

I understand that Promet has been given the construction job of building a $18 million module, which will house a platoon-size garrison.

The DAP fully supports the government’s assertion of territorial rights over Turumbu Layang-Layang and other islands, atolls, sandbanks and shoals of the Spratley Group which are on Malaysia’s continental shelf, not only because of its oil-rich potential but also for its strategic position through which pass naval and air routes connecting the Far East and the Indian Ocean through the Straits of Malacca and Lombok of Indonesia.

But there is room for dispute as to whether spending $18 million to build a module for Turumbu Layang-Layang will advance Malaysia’s territorial claim – as i Understand that the army in particular is very unhappy about the Turumbu Layang-Layang module decision as the atoll is clearly indefensible from any likely attack.

The Government must be more open with parliament and the people about defence decisions, presenting the various options available to the government as in the assertion of territorial rights at Turumbu Layang-Layang instead of hiding under the cover that it is a defence secret.


According to the 1976 Law of the Sea Conference paper, which quoted figures from the U.S Geological survey Professional Paper No. 885, the ocean-space that would accrue to ASEAN nations and the world ranking order for 200-mile EEZ area are as follows:

Indonesia 1,577,300 sq.n.m. No. 7
Philippines 551,400 sq.n.m. No. 23
Malaysia 138,700 sq.n.m. No. 67
Thailand 94,700 sq.n.m. No. 52
Singapore 100 sq.n.m. No. 149

These figures are approximate ones because of disputed boundary claims.

Parliament should consider the military implications, in particular the naval implications, of an Exclusive Economic Zone, for enforcement problems is perplexing government and military, and in particular naval staffs, of all the coastal nations which have claimed a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.

We have not been able to protect our fishermen in Malaysian territorial waters, so where do we begin to talk about enforcing our rights in a 200-mile EEZ?

A few days ago, the South Trengganu Fishermen’s Association Chairman, Hassan Ismail, accused the authorities of doing very little against intrusion into Malaysian waters by foreign fishermen, mainly Thai and Taiwanese, resulting in fishermen in Trengganu losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The intrusion by foreign fishermen into Malaysian waters had escalated because of the lack of surveillance by the authorities, and at any one time, as many as 50 to 60 fully-equipped foreign fishing boats with firearms could be seen within about 9km off the coast. Local fishermen in the vicinity would be ordered to vacate the area or be shot at, and fish traps and fishing nets of local fishermen would be set adrift or destroyed.

Apart from intrusion by foreign fishermen in Malaysian waters, Malaysian fishermen also face the perennial problem of ‘pirates’ who operate in Indonesian naval boats.

I might add here that although there is an agreement between Malaysia and Indonesia on the legalisation of illegal Indonesian immigrants, there is no drop in the number of illegal Indonesian immigrants who land on the west coast of Johore and Malacca.

This again exposes the inability of our naval and other authorities to enforce our national rights within our territorial areas.

In the EEZ, enforcements would require vessels adequate to range the full area of the EEZ, to operate for extended periods in adverse weather, and to successfully enforce the nation’s claim to exclusive control of the EEZ.

Do we have such appropriate vessels? If naval vessels designed for sophisticated warfare are dispatched to fisheries patrol, this will waste capability and divert resources from defence tasks.

Which agency would be responsible for enforcing our EEZ rights? Is it to be the navy? Fisheries, customs, transportation, police, immigration, energy, environment and other government departments would have interests in enforcing EEZ rights and would there be a happy and satisfactory working relationship if they have all to depend on the navy vessels for communication? I can imagine considerable internal bureaucratic organisational conflicts.

Or do we have to establish a new agency to enforce our rights in the EEZ, with greater emphasis on EEZ law enforcement rather than on military capability?

Clause 25 provides for ‘hot pursuit’, ‘where any authorised officer has reason to believe that a foreign vessel has contravened any provision of this Act or any applicable written law, he may undertake the hot pursuit of such vessel with a view to stopping and arresting and bringing it within the exclusive economic zone in accordance with international law’.

Who will carry out this ‘hot pursuit’ and how? Can the fishery officer, police officer or environment department officer direct the navy on such ‘hot pursuits’, or are they all going to have their own vessels directly under their own control, leading to multiple naval forces?

These new problems of EEZ call for a re-evaluation of existing and planned naval forces, and to structure those forces to carry out tasks which have not been required before. In fact, there is a need to review the whole national policy of our naval forces in the light of the EEZ.


The Government’s efforts in the fishing sector has been one of the failure areas, especially with MAJUIKAN’s poor leadership and record to raise incomes for Malaysian fisherman. Malaysian fishermen comprise one of the poverty groups in the country.

With the EEZ, the Government should develop Malaysia into a distant-water fishing state, with distant-water fleets for the catching of high-priced species which are of international demand.

Most Malaysian fishing presently does not extend beyond 30 nautical miles, and the resources within this zone are over-exploited, resulting in violent competition between trawler and traditional fishermen.

Malaysia must now graduate from a largely inshore fishing activity using traditional technique to a commercial industry using modern boats and equipment which could exploit fishery resources in the EEZ, as Clause 6 of the EEZ Bill has also declared the EEZ seas as “part of Malaysian fisheries waters”.

To protect our fisheries waters, we must be able to ensure that foreign distant fleets do not encroach into our fishing zones, or if it allowed to fish, do not overfish to the detriment of future fish populations.

We must be realistic to acknowledge that this is likely to produce international conflicts since the distant-water fishing fleets of foreign nations require a large maritime space for exploitation while the EEZ changes water hitherto under international jurisdiction to that under exclusive national jurisdiction.

Malaysia should seriously consider proposing an ASEAN regional mechanism for both fishery management and resource management.


The expansion of the economic zone of Malaysia will essentially be in the South China Sea, especially the offshore areas of Sarawak and Sabah. The waters around the Malaysian Peninsular would, however, become zone-locked by the straight baselines of the Indonesian archipelago.

The main obstacle to Malaysia’s extending the economic zone to a maximum area (along the east coast of the Malaysian Peninsular) is the Indonesia claim based on the concept of an archipelagic state.

Archipelagic states consist of numerous islands (more than 13,000 islands in the case of Indonesia and 7,100 islands in the case of the Philippines). If the normal baseline were to be employed, these states would have hundreds of territorial seas separated by numerous belts or pockets of high seas.

Under the Archipelagic concept, the archipelagic states would have the right to draw straight baselines connecting the outermost points of the outermost islands and drying reefs. The waters enclosed by the straight baseline perimeters would be “archipelagic waters” (akin to internal waters) in which the state would have sovereignty though innocent passage for vessels would be recognized.

Indonesia’s archipelagic baselines would divide East and West Malaysia, because of Indonesia’s Natuna Islands which lies athwart Peninsular and East Malaysia. The Indonesian archipelagic waters would not only be in the way of air and sea routes between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, but they would also acquire rights over many hundreds of square miles of seabed resources.

In July 1982, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a treaty supporting and recognising Indonesia’s archipelagic waters claim. This is most shocking for Malaysia has supported Indonesia’s archipelagic concept without fully safeguarding Malaysia’s national rights and interests.

The 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention gave support for the archipelagic waters concept, but provided for a 50-mile air and sea navigation corridor through the archipelagic territory. In the Malaysia-Indonesia treaty, Malaysia accepted a 20-mile corridor.

The Treaty did recognise some of the rights and interests of Malaysia, such as:

• The right of access and communication of Malaysian ships and aircraft;
• The traditional fishing rights of Malaysian traditional fishermen in the designated areas;
• Joint search and rescue operations including the right to jointly conduct marine research.

But these do not seem to be comprehensive enough, for does the Treaty recognise Malaysia’s right of overflight of her military aircrafts over the Indonesian archipelagic waters which overlap Malaysia’s EEZ?

In fact, in the United Nations Conference of the Law of the Seas in 1974, Malaysia supported the Indonesian archipelagic concept without making any concrete reservations for its rights to exploit natural resources, which was only made two years later in 1976.

I hope the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department can give a full explanation for the government’s support of the Indonesian archipelagic concept which is detrimental to Malaysia’s national and economic interests.

Now that we have accepted by treaty Indonesia’s archipelagic waters concept and territorial sovereignty over them, Malaysians would be facing problems when Indonesia enforces its archipelagic water rights.