China, Malaysia locked in tense stand-off over ‘fighter aircraft intrusion’
China on Wednesday said its fighter aircraft did not violate Malaysia’s airspace but was exercising freedom of overflight. Malaysia had earlier said it will summon the Chinese envoy to protest over an intrusion by 16 military aircraft into its airspace.
On Monday, Malaysia’s armed forces said they had detected “suspicious” air activities over its administered area in the disputed South China Sea (SCS) region.
Malaysia’s air force added that it had detected 16 Chinese planes - People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force - flying within 60 nautical miles off Sarawak state of Malaysian Borneo on Monday, calling it a “suspicious” activity over the SCS and a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety,” according to a Reuters report on Wednesday.
Foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he will summon the Chinese ambassador to explain “this breach of the Malaysian airspace and sovereignty”.
In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry dismissed the allegations. “To my knowledge, it was a routine training conducted by China’s air force over waters to the south of Nansha Islands. It doesn’t target any country,” spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a briefing.
“During the training, China’s air force strictly complied with international law and didn’t enter the air space of any other country. The Chinese side has communicated with the Malaysian side over this,” Wang added.
Chinese state media report said that the country’s air force “…reportedly dispatched 16 aircraft comprising strategic transport planes to the South China Sea for routine flight training on Monday, without violating the airspace of other countries”.
“China and Malaysia are friendly neighbours, and China is willing to continue bilateral friendly consultations with Malaysia to jointly maintain regional peace and stability,” a Chinese embassy spokesperson in Kuala Lumpur was quoted as saying.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, citing historical records.
Several countries including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims.
Tensions in the maritime region have increased since China built several man-made islands and turned them into military outposts.