Malaysia has announced that it will protest the intrusion of a Chinese coast guard ship into its territorial waters north of Borneo, a rare confrontational move from a country which is known for its soft approach to the South China Sea dispute.
“This is not an area with overlapping claims. In this case, we’re taking diplomatic action,” National Security Minister Shahidan Kassim said in a local interview on Monday, adding that Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will take the issue up directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Shahidan posted pictures of the Chinese coast guard ship in Luconia Shoals, an area of islets and reefs inside the exclusive economic zone claimed by Malaysia and about 2,000 km from mainland China, on Facebook a few days ago. He labelled the ship an intruder
China claims almost 90 percent of the South China Sea and the Chinese military has been growing increasingly aggressive in the disputed waters, reclaiming submerged islands for military facilities.
US navy photos have confirmed that China is constructing at least seven artificial islands in the disputed Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea, CNN reported recently.
China's new defense white paper has warned an "inevitable" war with the US if Washington continues to interfere with Beijing's activities in the area.
Meanwhile, Japan said on Tuesday that it aims to send a P3-C Orion patrol aircraft to the Philippines for a search-and-rescue exercise this month, as Tokyo also wants to increase its presence in the South China Sea.
The two-day exercise will start on June 24 and was proposed by Philippine President Benigno Aquino who visited Japan last week. Japan is also considering joint maritime air patrols with the US in the disputed waters.
Malaysia has generally maintained a more low-key and cautious attitude towards the Chinese claims in the area, even to the extent of angering other regional actors such as the Philippines and Vietnam with rival claims.
The Philippines has made the most noise against China’s territorial water claims in the region and believes that unless the ASEAN countries halt “Chinese revisionism,” the area will be taken under “de facto Beijing control” in the medium term.
Just before the latest ASEAN summit in April, the Philippines urged other South Asian nations to take immediate action to prevent Chinese land reclamations. However, Malaysia took a less confrontational approach and indirectly rejected Manila's offer to stand against Beijing in the summit. Instead, Malaysia said it seeks an "expeditious resolution" to the dispute.