Malaysia to Protest ‘Suspicious’ Flight of Chinese Aircraft
(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia will summon China’s ambassador to protest flights by 16 air force planes over the South China Sea that Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says were a “breach of Malaysian airspace and sovereignty.”
The “suspicious” Chinese aircraft were spotted near the East Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Royal Malaysian Air Force said in a statement late Tuesday. They entered the Malaysian maritime zone and were approaching national airspace, it added.
The Ilyushin II-76 and Xi’an Y-20 jets that Malaysia’s air force says threatened its aviation safety were then identified by an interceptor aircraft after they didn’t comply with “several attempts” to direct them to air traffic control. Both planes are used for transport.
Hishammuddin said he plans to seek an explanation for the flights from Chinese diplomats. “Malaysia’s stand is clear -- having friendly diplomatic relations with any countries does not mean that we will compromise our national security,” he said in a statement late Tuesday.
China has been in touch with Malaysian officials over the matter, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “China’s military was conducting routine flight exercises near the Nansha Islands, was strictly following international law and did not violate any foreign airspace,” he added.
The incident comes amid China’s tensions with other Southeast Asian nations -- as well as the U.S. and its allies -- over its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. Malaysia is one of several countries in the region that disputes China’s extensive claims while Beijing regularly asserts sovereignty over about four-fifths of the waters.
Stretching from China in the north to Indonesia in the south, the South China Sea encompasses 1.4 million square miles (3.6 million square kilometers), making it bigger than the Mediterranean. To the west it touches Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, and the Philippines and Brunei to the east.
Tensions in the disputed waters have escalated in recent weeks, with the Philippines repeatedly protesting and demanding that Chinese vessels leave areas it said are within its jurisdiction. On Saturday, it complained about what it said was China’s “incessant deployment, prolonged presence and illegal activities” around Thitu Island.
The Philippines has also objected to China’s fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, saying the annual ban extends far beyond China’s legitimate entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern said in a statement on Monday they had “serious concern over developments in the South China Sea, including the continued militarization of disputed features and an intensification of destabilizing activities at sea.”
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