Malaysia to Establish Marine Corps and South China Sea Naval Base
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Malaysia to Establish Marine Corps and South China Sea Naval Base


The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) is creating a marine corps and establishing a new naval base in the South China Sea near waters it disputes with China, IHS Jane’s reported this week, citing a press release from Defense Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

According to the defense minister’s statement, the new naval base will be built in Bintulu on the South China Sea (SCS) for the explicit purpose of protecting nearby waters and oil reserves. As Jane’s points out, however, the base will be located just 60 miles from the James Shoal, an area in the South China Sea claimed by both Malaysia and China.

Back in March a PLA amphibious task force conducted a large naval exercise in the James Shoal.

“It is not just a few ships here and there, but a crack amphibious landing ship carrying marines and hovercraft and backed by some of the best escort ships in the PLAN fleet,” Gary Li, a senior analyst with IHS Fairplay, told Asian Correspondent at the time.

“We've never seen anything like this that far south in terms of quantity or quality … it is hard to know whether it is just coincidence, but it does seem to reflect [President] Xi Jinping's desire for more practical operationally based exercises,” Li added.

IHS Jane’s said that establishment of the Marine Corps will be partly used to deal with Sulu militants who have caused unrest in Sabah in eastern Malaysia. The Marine Corps will be drawn from Malaysia’s existing services as the overall size of the armed forces is capped. It has not been determined which of the services the Marine Corps will fall under.

IHS Jane’s said that Malaysia will rely on the expertise of the U.S. Marines Corps (USMC) to help develop the new Marine force.

“Malaysia is keen to draw on the USMC's expertise and has been in discussions with the United States (US) over support, training and expertise exchange,” the report said.

Initially, the Malaysian marine corps will lack an amphibious naval platform as the RMN’s only amphibious ship, the Newport-class landing ship-tank KD Sri Inderapura, was destroyed in a fire in 2009. It is currently in discussions with both France and South Korea over acquiring a landing platform deck (LPD). The U.S. has also offered Malaysia the LPD USS Denver after it decommissions it in 2014. U.S.-based defense companies are also discussing selling Malaysia the AH-1Z Super Cobra attack helicopters.

Malaysia’s decision to establish a naval base in the South China Sea is in line with other Southeast Asian nations that are locked in territorial disputes with China over the waters. As The Diplomat reported last week, the Philippines is creating a new naval base on Oyster Bay, Palawan Island. Vietnam is similarly expanding its Cam Ranh Bay naval base and offering foreign navies greater access to it. 

October 25, 2013 at 23:41

China is building Aircraft Carriers on recently prepared dry docks. One Chinese Aircraft Carrier with Fighters has more capability than the entire RMAF and RMN combined. In terms of defence, Malaysia’s Air Force and Navy are puny, ineffective, limited and wracked by meddling political corruption. Should China return and conduct a naval exercise 12 miles of the Bintulu coast, the Malaysians will be quietly signing away Military Basing Rights and other Oil and Gas concessions to the Americans.
The game is over for Malaysia. In comparison, Vietnam is very serious.

October 22, 2013 at 12:01

More likely against claim from Sabah northern neighbor and any further intrusion that may and will occurs even more often in the future.



October 21, 2013 at 20:08

The UK, Australia and others are bound to protect Malaysia as FPDA pact is still active (Five Power Defense Arrangement). The members are Malaysia, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. The SEA nations will eventually set aside their petty differences to counter a greater threat.

October 21, 2013 at 19:30

Malaysia's upgrade is more to put a lid on Philippine claim than anything else.  Philippines is the weakest of all claimants in terms of abilities, however, it is the most vocal of the lot.  In terms of capabilities, we can rank Vietnam as the most capable followed by Malaysia. Taiwan (ROC) does not count as Chinese claim is predicated on Republic of China's claim.

October 21, 2013 at 17:31

Singapore wouldn't feel a darn thing. In fact, if anything, we would cheer the fact that Malaysia isn't afraid to stand up to China when the need arises.

October 21, 2013 at 10:31


Since the US Marines are training the Malaysian Marines, I don’t see how that would make Singapore desire to be closer to mainland China in any way, shape, or form. In fact, since Singapore is equally concerned about mainland Chinese aggression as the rest of ASEAN, Singapore has made it very clear that they want the F-35B from the US in case PLA strikes their one major military airfield in Singapore. China may easily destroy Singapore’s airbase with a missile strike, but Singapore’s thoughts are to have F-35B STOVL versions dispersed away from the vulnerable airfield for smart tactical reasons.

I don’t see Malaysia in a conundrum at all. As they are inviting the USA into their country to counter the assertive acts of mainland China in the ECS & SCS. How else do you explain why Indonesia, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Palau, Mongolia, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Thailand Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, India, and the Philippines are asking the USA to base their F-22s, F-35s, LCS, US Marines, and missile defense systems in their lands? Even I had to laugh at China stating their SCO was a counter to NATO, when SCO member Uzbekistan allows USA airbase and Indian airbase in their country, but never asked for the PLAAF to have an airbase in Uzbekistan as an SCO member.

As usual TDog, you come up short when it comes to offering a real solution over the territorial disputes in the South China Seas, as your leadership in Beijing can’t come up with a solution for ethnic unrest in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia these days either.

Your small thinking is just like your leadership’s thoughts on how easy it would be to take territory from a small neighbor. But in reality, China would lose big! Because you don’t factor in what China loses politically on the world stage, loses trying to project itself as a respected power in Asia, and most of all, never will attain that ‘Dream’ of having Soft Power appeal with the international community.

Then again, I don’t believe China has any political appeal, isn’t a respected power in Asia, nor has any Soft Power appeal at all as it is right now!

No wonder China is seen as nothing but a ‘Bully’ in Asia!

October 20, 2013 at 06:12

Naval bases and marine corps are just the first step.  The question is will Malaysia be able to build these forces into something that will serve as a credible deterrent to other South China Sea claimants?  And whie China may be the object of Malaysia's military preparations, its effects will be felt much further afield.  How will Taiwan react?  How will Singapore feel?  Given Singapore and Malaysia's contentious past, this may actually serve to draw Singapore closer to China.

US involvement in this project is secondary.  Given shrinking budgets, reduced manpower, and smaller numbers, American forces will be stretched thin even in peacetime.  And given how poorly American-trained forces typically perform in combat, having US military trainers on hand is not necessarily a selling point.  Argentina fared poorly against the UK during the Falklands, Afghan national army troops can hardly operate on their own, and Nationalist Chinese troops were consistently outmaneuvered by Communist Chinese forces during the Chinese Civil War.  

I admit that this is a bit of a conundrum for Malaysia.  If they do nothing, they lose the territory they claim.  If they do something, liek establish a marine corps and a new naval base, they may provide the justification Beijing is seeking for military action – and it's highly unlikely China will lose in that conflict.

In my opinion, this military buildup is just part of the solution.  The other is to reach an agreement with China and resolve these border disputes.  The soft touch of politics should be backed up with the big stick of military force.  Malaysia would be ill served relying solely upon a military solution to this conflict.  

David Mukker
October 19, 2013 at 23:05

Can China claim this as a success of their Xi-Li 14 days wirlwind campaign to buy economic ties, force joint-declarations, calm Asean members down from from worrying about Chinese aggressions and prevent them from working with the US?

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