Around 100 Chinese boats and ships were discovered trespassing Malaysian waters in the South China Sea, a minister said Thursday.
According to Malaysia’s national news agency Bernama, Shahidan Kassim, minister in the prime minister’s department, said that around 100 China-registered boats and vessels had been detected in the Luconia Shoals – which Malaysia calls Beting Patinggi Ali. He did not offer further specifics on the nature of these vessels and their specific locations.
While the report did not offer an estimate of the exact number of vessels, The Diplomat understands from an informed, anonymous source that the number is close to 140.
Malaysia, one of four Southeast Asian claimants in the South China Sea disputes along with Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines, has been contending with a series of bolder and more frequent incursions by Chinese vessels over the past few years. For instance, in one high-profile case, a Chinese coast guard ship was reported as being defiantly anchored at the Luconia Shoals just 84 nautical miles from the coast of Sarawak, well inside Malaysia’s EEZ (See: “Malaysia Responds to China’s South China Sea Intrusion”).
Though Malaysia has traditionally employed what I’ve termed a ‘playing it safe’ approach in the South China Sea, growing Chinese assertiveness has led the country to recalibrate its strategy (See: “Malaysia’s South China Sea Policy: Playing it Safe”). Just earlier this month, Malaysia’s defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in an interview that there may be a “pushback” from the country in response to Beijing’s behavior (See: “A Malaysia Pushback Against China in the South China Sea?”).
In response to the latest incident, Shahidan said that the government had instructed the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), the country’s equivalent of a coast guard, to deploy its assets to monitor the situation.
“Three MMEA vessels have been deployed to the area. The Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) assets are also there. The Bombardier aircraft has also carried out aerial monitoring in that area and found a group of Chinese fishermen there,” Shahidan told reporters on the sidelines of the country’s parliament.
“Our vessels are expected to arrive there tonight,” he said.
Shahidan added that appropriate law enforcement action would be taken if the aforementioned vessels were found to have entered Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).