Kuala Lumpur: The Malaysian government will issue a diplomatic protest against an intrusion “of 16 Chinese military planes into its airspace, the foreign minister said.
Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Tuesday evening that he would summon the Chinese ambassador to explain this violation of Malaysia’s airspace and sovereignty.
The Malaysian Air Force said its radar picked up the Chinese plane on Monday near Malaysian-administered Luconia Shoals, a rich fishing area in the disputed South China Sea.
The Chinese planes then moved nearly 60 nautical miles (110 kilometers) off the coast of Sarawak on the island of Borneo.
After attempts to contact the plane failed, the Air Force dispatched its fighter jets to identify them. He said they were strategic carriers Ilyushin Il-76 and Xian Y-20, flying at an altitude between 23,000 and 27,000 feet (7,000 and 8,000 meters), typically used by commercial flights. Malaysia called the incident a serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety.
Malaysia’s position is clear: having friendly diplomatic relations with any country does not mean that we will compromise our national security, ”Hishammuddin said in a statement. He said he would convey Malaysia’s serious concerns about this to his Chinese counterpart.
There was no reaction from Beijing.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea on historical grounds. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims, and tensions have escalated since China built several man-made islands and turned them into military outposts.
The strategically important area straddles some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and is also rich in fisheries and may contain underground reserves of oil and natural gas.
Malaysia claims that Chinese coastguards and naval vessels entered its waters in the South China Sea 89 times between 2016 and 2019. Malaysia has filed six diplomatic protests with China, including one in 2017 in response to a Chinese note affirming its claim on the Southern Luconia Banks.