The pressure on Beijing’s Southeast Asian rivals to be more forceful over disputed parts of the South China Sea is immense. Washington’s anti-Chinese push among regional allies is intense, while domestic expectations remain strong. Malaysia is the latest nation to turn to the United Nations with a note of protest, a strategy that is less about raising tensions than ensuring claims are taken seriously. This is the rational diplomacy necessary to strive for an amicable resolution to the conflict. Malaysia, in the latest exchange of diplomatic notes with China through the UN, criticised Beijing for claiming Kuala Lumpur had no right to establish a continental shelf in the northern part of the South China Sea. Following similar missives from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, the United States and Australia, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s government said its position was within the country’s rights under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which all are party. China says it has historical rights to most of the resource-rich waters, vaguely defining the area on maps with a U-shaped line that overlaps the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. A tribunal in The Hague four years ago ruled in favour of a suit brought by Manila contesting the claim, a decision Beijing refuses to recognise. US President Donald Trump’s administration entered the fray for the first time on July 13, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling China’s claims unlawful. Indonesia, Singapore steer clear of US-China dispute in calls with Pompeo The Covid-19 crisis is threatening the president’s chances of re-election in November, and he sees blaming Beijing for his country’s problems as a way to shore up support while toughening a policy of isolating Beijing and containing its rise. Allies have also been told to show their allegiance by giving support. Southeast Asian countries that see the United States as a bulwark against China, yet depend on Chinese trade and investment for development, have a difficult balancing act to protect interests. China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are in the midst of negotiations on a code of conduct for the South China Sea. They have to resist being goaded into rash actions that harm regional stability. Calm diplomacy is always the best strategy.