Malaysia has taken three important steps to strengthen its figurative “big stick.” On October 10, 2013, after the PLAN visit to James Shoal, Malaysia’s Defense Minister announced that a new naval base would be built in Sarawak, one hundred kilometers from James Shoal. Second, he announced that Malaysia would start up a new Marine Corps to provide amphibious capabilities in the South China Sea. The new naval base and marine unit would be tasked with protecting Malaysia’s off-shore oil and gas reserves as well as defending against possible armed incursions from the southern Philippines. Third, on February 11, 2014 Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar and his U.S. counterpart, Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, the new Chief of Naval Operations, agreed to step up U.S. naval visits to Malaysia. According to Admiral Aziz, “Since 2008 to the end of last year, 132 US naval ships have called at Malaysian ports such as Pulau Indah and Kota Kinabalu.” 

Malaysia has also begun to “talk softly” with fellow members of ASEAN. Diplomatic sources report that recently Malaysia has begun to play a more proactive role in advance of China-ASEAN consultations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which are due to begin in Singapore in March. Malaysia is also hosting a visit by Philippine President Benigno Aquino. The diplomatic rumor mill reports that the United States is quietly encouraging Malaysia and Vietnam to lend support to the Philippines as the March deadline for its submission to the UN Arbitral Tribunal approaches.