Malaysia Summons China’s Envoy to Protest Ships in its EEZ

Special to BenarNews
2021-10-04
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Malaysia Summons China’s Envoy to Protest Ships in its EEZ
[BenarNews]

Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET on 2021-10-05

Malaysia on Monday protested the presence of a large Chinese survey ship, which sailed into its exclusive economic zone last week.

Ship-tracking data on Sept. 29 revealed the 4,600-ton Da Yang Hao operating in an area that runs through the EEZs of three countries: Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. At one point it was only 40 nautical miles from the Philippines’ Balabac Island and 60 nautical miles from Malaysia’s coast.

The Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement Monday saying it “called in the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to convey Malaysia’s position and protest against the presence and activities of Chinese vessels, including a survey vessel, in Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone off the coasts of Sabah and Sarawak."

The statement said the presence and activities of these vessels “are inconsistent with Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1984, as well as the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

“Malaysia had also protested against the previous encroachments by other foreign vessels into our waters,” it added.

“Malaysia reiterates that all matters relating to the South China Sea must be resolved peacefully and constructively, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UNCLOS.”

While it took several days for Malaysia to issue this statement after the Chinese survey ship showed up in its EEZ, the strong wording shows that Kuala Lumpur, under increasing domestic pressure, felt the need to speak up against China’s assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea.

The Da Yang Hao first appeared in the area around Sept. 25-26. Its exact location on Monday could not be determined by ship-tracking as it was not broadcasting its position.

In June, Malaysia reportedly summoned the Chinese ambassador after 16 Chinese military aircraft flew over disputed waters off its eastern state of Sarawak, calling the maneuver as a "serious threat to national sovereignty."

'Malaysia’s strategic space continues to tighten'

It’s not uncommon for Chinese vessels to show up uninvited in the EEZs of its neighbors.

Another Chinese survey vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 10, was conducting a survey in an oil field in Indonesia’s EEZ for a month before retiring to Fiery Cross Reef last week for re-supply.

And last Thursday, the Philippine foreign secretary ordered that diplomatic protests be filed against Beijing over the ongoing presence of more than 100 Chinese ships in waters claimed by Manila in the South China Sea. He complained about “incessant and unlawful restriction” of Filipino fisherman at Scarborough Shoal.

Like its neighbors, Malaysia faces a dilemma in its relationship with China – challenging Beijing over its maritime incursions without straining ties with what is the region’s dominant economic power.

“A fundamental calculation for Malaysia in managing China’s increasingly aggressive approach in the South China Sea is the latter’s escalation dominance and willingness to escalate if given an excuse. Malaysia has and will practice caution in its response, especially at sea,” Thomas Daniel, senior fellow at the Malaysian Institute of Strategic and International Studies, told BenarNews last week.

“Unfortunately, Malaysia’s strategic space continues to tighten, leading to difficult challenges that policymakers might not have an immediate solution to,” he added.

Last year Malaysia and China were entangled in a month-long standoff in the South China Sea.

Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 was operating in the EEZ, close to a drillship contracted by Malaysian state oil firm Petronas in waters claimed by Malaysia and Vietnam as well as China.

Both the Malaysian drill ship and the Chinese ship left after a month. The incident had prompted the United States to call on China to stop its “bullying behavior” in the disputed waters.

At that time, Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hishammuddin Hussein, now defense minister, said in a statement: “Due to the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, all parties must work together to maintain peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

He said that disputes should be resolved amicably, indicating that even if Malaysia had not spoken publicly about it, it had been working to resolve the situation behind the scenes.

On Sept. 22 this year, Hishammuddin told parliament he would seek Beijing’s views on a new U.S.-U.K.-Australia security pact and determine what action China plans in response – comments that some critics viewed as inappropriate given China’s frequent incursions by its ships and planes around Malaysia.

Hishammuddin said he would have to “tread carefully” to try and balance the “two major powers” – China and the U.S. – and that was “not any easy thing” to do. 

This report has been updated to add information about the Chinese envoy reportedly being summoned by Kuala Lumpur about the overflight of Chinese military planes off Sarawak in June.

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