KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will lodge a diplomatic protest against an alleged incursion by a Chinese Coast Guard ship into its waters off Borneo island in the disputed South China Sea, a top naval official said on Tuesday amid a continuing standoff with the vessel.
Navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said that since late 2014, intrusions by Chinese ships into Malaysian waters have been a daily affair with Kuala Lumpur protesting to Beijing each time.
Abdul Aziz told Agence France-Presse that the Chinese vessel involved in the latest incident remained in Malaysian waters.
“We are maintaining our presence there. We are shadowing the vessel continuously. It is a case where they want to maintain their presence there but at the same time we are there to make sure and tell them that this is our waters,” he said.
“We have been submitting [diplomatic protests]. Every time we detect them… every time we sight them, we challenge them [to indicate]that they are in our waters. At the same time, we lodge a diplomatic protest,” the Navy chief added.
The latest incident is near the Luconia Shoals, an area of the South China Sea just outside the Spratlys and is 65 nautical miles or 120 kilometers northwest of the oil-rich town of Miri in eastern Sarawak state.
The Luconia shoals are claimed by the Republic of China (Taiwan), the People’s Republic of China and Malaysia. Mainland China has kept a large Coast Guard vessel permanently anchored in the South Luconia Shoals since 2013. Chinese media reports said the shoals have been effectively administered by Beijing since April 2015.
In the latest incident, Abdul Aziz said, attempts to communicate with the Chinese vessel to state that it was in Malaysian waters met no response.
“We are on Channel 16. We are communicating through VHF communications. We are telling them this is our waters. [But] they do not respond,” he added.
Beijing, which claims the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) almost entirely, has built 2,000 acres (800 hectares) of artificial islands in the Spratlys, including those with facilities that appear to have a military purpose.
Regional alarm is growing at moves by China to stake its claim to most of the sea, including its large-scale island-building program.
The Philippines and the United States have urged China to halt reclamation.
Malaysia, which has close economic ties with China, has traditionally downplayed tensions in the South China Sea and steers clear of criticizing China’s actions in the energy-rich waters.
But Abdul Aziz said that since September 2014, there has been an increase in intrusions by Chinese Coast Guard vessels.
“We protest every time. We see them every day,” he noted.
The Philippines and Japan will hold their second joint naval drills this year, the Philippines’ Armed Forces said also on Tuesday, as the World War II foes deepen security ties while China aggressively develops islands in disputed waters.
The June 22-26 joint maneuvers with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force would be the second this year, after a one-day exercise in the flashpoint South China Sea last month, Philippine Navy spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo said.
He would not say where the new exercises would be held or which ships would take part.
On May 12, two Japanese destroyers and one of the Philippines’ newest warships held maneuvers less than 300 kilometers from the Philippine-claimed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which the Chinese have occupied.
“This navy-to-navy engagement envisions to share new tactics, techniques and procedures as well as best practices to further maritime operations,” Arevalo said.
The drills will involve “maritime domain awareness,” search and rescue and disaster response, he added.