Earlier this week, China launched the second in a series of ships being designed for Malaysia following the conclusion of a defense deal between the two sides. The development highlighted some of the ongoing activity in the landmark agreement as well as the broader Sino-Malaysian defense relationship following the entry of a new Malaysian government in the country last May.
As I have noted previously, while China and Malaysia have been making gradual inroads in their defense ties as part of their broader bilateral relationship, one notable development came in 2016, when, under the previous government of Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia agreed to buy four littoral mission ships (LMS) from China. The deal constituted a landmark development for both the bilateral relationship – being the first naval purchase of its kind between the two countries – as well as for China’s growing defense ties with regional states.
While there have been adjustments made to the deal under the new Pakatan Harapan government in line with other changing aspects of Sino-Malaysian relations, the deal has nonetheless been proceeding thus far. Indeed, the first of the LMS vessels, named Keris, was launched back in April at the Shuangliu Manufacturer Base of Wuchang Shipbuilding Industrial Group in Wuhan, China.
Earlier this month, the deal was in the headlines again with the launching of the second LMS. The vessel, named Sundang, was launched by Wuchang Shipbuilding Industrial Group at its Shuangliu facility in Wuhan on July 12.
Per a release from the Royal Malaysian Navy, the second LMS was launched with a scheduled ceremony officiated by the wife of Malaysia’s Armed Forces Commander Zulkifli Zainal Abidin. The name Sundang refers to a traditional Malay weapon symbolizing courage and strength, and it follows the name given to a patrol vessel that was dismissed back in 2005.
The statement noted that the launch constituted progress within the overall contract, with the remaining two ships expected to be launched in the middle of 2020. The ships are expected to be used for a range of purposes, including patrolling, maritime surveillance, and search and rescue responsibilities.
The launch of the ship came amid other developments tied to China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), the parent company of Wuchang Shipbuilding Industrial Group. For instance, media reports noted that just as the launch occurred, CSIC deputy general manager Wu Xiaoguang was on a regional tour billed as part of an effort to expand Chinese arms sales to Southeast Asia, with stops in the Philippines and Indonesia to “put China’s going out strategy into practice.”
The Sundang is expected to be delivered to the RMN by April 2020. But in the meantime, the development of the current contract, along with potential new ones and broader developments in Sino-Malaysian defense relations, will continue to be interesting to watch.