RMSI : The Undying Ghost Of US Regional Hegemony
- From: (Mr) Law Sin Ling
18 March 2005
RMSI : The Undying Ghost Of US Regional Hegemony
If the historic famed pirates of the Malacca Strait needed a bit of
rejuvenation to their flagging reputation as a bunch of blood-thirsty
marine brigand, they had one this week with the high-profile
abduction of 3 Japanese crewmen from a Japanese-registered tugboat.
But while "a bit" was all that the action of the unidentified
pirates would have achieved to restore the nostalgic memory of the
Strait countries, it had certainly gone a long way to resurrect the
ghost of the controversial Regional Maritime Security Initiative
The concept of a RMSI first came into light in April 2004 when Mr
Matthew Daley, then deputy assistant secretary of state at the US
State Department, hinted of a permanent US maritime deployment in the
Strait region by the US under the pretext of counter-terrorism.
The poorly-framed argument for such an audacious move collapsed under
scrutiny (see footnote 1).
The Singapore government however passionately embraced the idea to
the exclusion of all consultations with Malaysia and Indonesia, the
other major Strait nations. After a prolonged public outcry from the
latter, the US and Singapore changed tack, which saw the Singapore
government engaging in a ceaseless campaign of speeches and public
media promulgations, both at home and abroad, urging closer
cooperation between the Strait countries and the countries whose
vessels ply the precarious water.
The debate gradually diluted away from the memory of the multitude.
But any illusion that Malaysia and Indonesia had put the matter
behind them was laid to rest with the latest development.
Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had launched what looked
ostensibly like a scornful response towards Indonesia, in the wake of
the recent territorial dispute with Indonesia over the oil-rich
region in the Sulawesi Sea:
"If the pirates come from Indonesia, it's up to the Indonesians
to take action against them. The principle of sovereignty has to be
The day before, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda had
volunteered to dispatch "boats and aircraft to help patrol the
waters". A curious offer considering the resources Japan would
have to expand to maintain such an operation without proximate
It would not escape many that Japan is the closest far eastern ally
of the US, and that the latter have no hesitation of employing Japan
as a proxy in their foreign policy. In fact, the cooperation of
Singapore and Japan over the matter of regional maritime security has
been cruising discreetly for some time.
The US has been trying to gain legitimacy to patrol the region, and
discreetly reinforce their intelligence gathering capabilities on
maritime traffic to and from their pet preoccupations of the region,
notably China. And Singapore has been an extremely cooperative
partner in all ways imaginable.
Indeed, the RMSI is very much alive and in progress, and the recent
exhortation from Malaysia to Indonesia is translated to a call to the
latter to avoid presenting Singapore and the US the necessary pretext
to launch a full-scale effort to vindicate the RMSI under US aegis
It was a reminder to Singapore and the US that the RMSI is still very
much ill-received by the highly nationalistic population of Muslim-
dominated Malaysia and Indonesia.
(Mr) Law Sin Ling
(1) Letter to the US ambassador in reply to the published `letter
of denial' from John Medeiros, Charge d'Affaires, Embassy of the
United States of America.
The Straits Times
March 18, 2005
Najib tells Jakarta: Hunt down pirates
KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIA yesterday urged Indonesia to hunt down the
pirates who kidnapped three crew members of a Japanese-registered
tugboat in the Malacca Strait this week.
Malaysian authorities believe the attackers took their captives to
Sumatra after boarding the Idaten in Malaysian waters at dusk on
'Whoever they are, irrespective of whoever, action must be taken
against them,' Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said.
'If the pirates come from Indonesia, it's up to the Indonesians to
take action against them.'
About 15 armed pirates abducted the tugboat's Japanese captain and
chief engineer and a Filipino engineer off Penang island.
The vessel owners say they have not been contacted by the pirates or
received any ransom demands so far.
Datuk Seri Najib said Malaysia would do 'whatever we can' to protect
vessels using the Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest shipping
lanes, but reiterated the stance of Malaysia and Indonesia that
foreign help was not needed to patrol their waters.
'The principle of sovereignty has to be respected,' he said.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said yesterday
Japan told Malaysia and other countries along the Malacca Strait that
it was ready to send boats and aircraft to help patrol the waters,
but it had not received any replies.
Reports in Malaysian newspapers said the pirates had passed through a
security dragnet set up after the incident because they were dressed
as fishermen and used a boat which bore a Malaysian registration
Maritime enforcement coordinating centre director First Admiral Abdul
Hadi Abdul Rashid said: 'No checks were conducted on boats which bore
Malaysian registration numbers and colours, thus allowing them to
'In our enforcement operations, we only inspect foreign fishing
vessels which encroach into our waters and not local ones. It is
impossible for us to check all boats in our waters within a short
He added that investigations had shown the boats to be Malaysian-
owned but with false registration numbers.
Marine police have pledged to increase protection for slow-moving
tugboats and oil tankers, which are considered easier targets for
pirates. The International Maritime Bureau recorded 37 pirate attacks
in the strait last year. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS, THE NEW STRAITS TIMES
No plans to unilaterally deploy US forces to secure Malacca Straits
PRESS reports over the weekend may have given readers the
misimpression that the United States plans to unilaterally deploy
American military forces to provide security in the Malacca Straits.
This is not the case.
The US government and interested nations in the Asia-Pacific region
have begun conceptual discussions about the development of a new
programme called the Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI).
RMSI is very much in the preliminary, planning phase, with initial
formal discussions scheduled to follow this summer. Admiral William
Fargo told a congressional committee on March 31 of several
hypothetical options, all of which will be explored with governments
in the region, beginning later this year.
In concept, RMSI is intended to address transnational threats and
crime in the maritime domain. It will facilitate information-sharing
and law-enforcement activities among participating nations to
monitor, identify and intercept suspected vessels and activities in
national and international waters.
We recognise that the littoral states along the straits - Singapore,
Malaysia and Indonesia - have special rights and responsibilities for
maintaining the security of the straits; each participating nation
will define how much, if any, RMSI activity will take place within
The ultimate goal is to coordinate regional maritime-security
capabilities to improve the security of the straits, which is so
crucial to the international community, and create an environment
hostile to terrorist and other criminal activities.
Embassy of the United States of America