The Malaysian government plans to issue a diplomatic protest against an “intrusion” by 16 Chinese military aircraft into its airspace, the foreign minister said.
Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hishammuddin Hussein late on Tuesday said that he would summon the Chinese ambassador to explain “this breach of the Malaysian airspace and sovereignty.”
The Chinese embassy in Malaysia denied that the planes breached Malaysia’s airspace.
Photo: Royal Malaysian Air Force via Reuters
Malaysia’s air force said that its radar picked up the Chinese warplanes on Monday near the Malaysian-administered Luconia Shoals, a rich fishing ground in the disputed South China Sea.
The Chinese planes then moved nearly 60 nautical miles (110km) off the coast of Sarawak on Borneo island, it said.
After attempts to contact the aircraft failed, the air force said it sent its fighter jets to identify them.
They were Ilyushin Il-76 and Xian Y-20 strategic transporters, flying at an altitude of 7,000m to 8,000m — altitude typically used by commercial flights, it said.
Malaysia called the incident a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety.”
“Malaysia’s stand is clear — having friendly diplomatic relations with any countries does not mean that we will compromise our national security,” Hishammuddin said in a statement.
He said that he would relay Malaysia’s serious concern about the matter to his Chinese counterpart.
The Chinese embassy defended the activity, saying that its military planes did not breach Malaysia’s airspace and had exercised freedom of overflight in the area.
They were carrying out routine flight training and did not target any country, the embassy said in a statement.
During the training, the Chinese military aircraft strictly abided by international law and did not enter the territorial airspace of any other country, it said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea on historic grounds. Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also have overlapping claims, and tensions have increased since China built several islands and turned them into military outposts.
The strategically important area straddles some of the world’s busiest sea lanes. It is also rich in fisheries, and might hold underground oil and natural gas reserves.
Malaysia says that Chinese coast guard and navy ships intruded in its waters in the South China Sea 89 times from 2016 to 2019.
Malaysia has filed six diplomatic protests with China, including one in 2017 in response to a Chinese note asserting its claim to the South Luconia Shoals (Nankang Shoal, 南康暗沙).
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