Perikatan Nasional (PN) chairman Muhyiddin Yassin today slammed remarks by Anwar Ibrahim stating Malaysia's willingness to negotiate with China over concerns about exploration activities by Petronas in the South China Sea, saying they undermine Malaysia's territorial claims.
"The statement is careless and should not come from a prime minister. The implication of this statement is that it indirectly recognises China's claim to an area that is already legally Malaysian territory that must be defended," the former prime minister said.
Anwar, in a speech briefing the Dewan Rakyat on his recent official trip to China, said while Petronas would continue its activities in the area, Malaysia was open to negotiations with Beijing over its concerns.
"I stressed... that Malaysia sees the area as Malaysian territory therefore Petronas will continue its exploration activities there," he said.
"But if China feels this is their right, Malaysia is open to negotiations."
Muhyiddin said Malaysia's territorial rights are not open to negotiation "even if it is claimed by China". He said there while there was no disputing that China was a global economic power, "it does not mean Malaysia's sovereignty can be compromised".
"Malaysia must firmly defend its territorial sovereignty and national security to protect the country's territorial rights and claims.
"The prime minister's statement about Malaysia's openness to negotiate over its territorial rights has exposed it to the risk of a threat to its national sovereignty," he said, adding that Anwar's statement was weak, irresponsible and amounted to "surrendering the dignity and sovereignty of the country to a foreign power".
Petronas has been operating within the exclusive economic zone, part of which is claimed by China as its territory based on the so-called "nine-dash line".
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague ruled that the nine-dash line had no legal basis.
Malaysia and China are among seven states surrounding the South China Sea which have laid territorial claims. The others are Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
China has been flexing its military muscle in the area in a move designed to shore up its territorial claim over the entire South China Sea.
Muhyiddin said Anwar had further undermined Malaysia's territorial sovereignty by repeating Chinese claims that its military presence was in "international waters".
He said Asean member states had yet to reach any consensus on conflicting claims in the South China Sea, but had rejected the nine-dash line claimed by Beijing.
"Regarding overlapping claims, any discussions must be held in accordance with the Asean Consensus and the South China Sea Code of Conduct," said Muhyiddin.