Chinese planes nearly violated airspace, says Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's air force said 16 Chinese military transport planes came close to violating Malaysian airspace, after they were detected conducting "suspicious" activity over the South China Sea.

The air force said it was forced to scramble jets on Monday to conduct visual confirmation after the planes flew to within 60 nautical miles off the coast of Sarawak state in east Malaysia.

As they approached, the air force sent planes to intercept and identify them, and they did not enter the country's airspace before flying off.

The Chinese planes did not contact the regional air traffic controller despite being instructed to do so several times, said the air force yesterday.

"This incident is a serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety due to the air traffic density over the airways," said the air force in a statement.

The Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said the planes conducted routine flight training and "strictly abided" by international law without violating the airspace of other countries.

"China and Malaysia are friendly neighbours, and China is willing to continue bilateral friendly consultations with Malaysia to jointly maintain regional peace and stability," said a spokesman.

China has been pushing an expansive claim over the waterway, through which about US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion) worth of ship-borne trade passes annually.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have competing claims to various islands and features in the area, and China's coastguard routinely warns foreign boats and aircraft to leave what it calls its territory.

Malaysia's air force said the planes, comprising Ilyushin il-76 and Xian Y-20 strategic transporters, had travelled in an "in-trail" tactical formation at altitudes of between 23,000 feet and 27,000 feet.

Last year, a Chinese survey ship had a month-long stand-off with a Malaysian oil exploration vessel within the South-east Asian country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.

The latest incident follows months of diplomatic protests by the Philippines over the presence of hundreds of Chinese fishing boats in its exclusive economic zone, which it says are manned by militia. China has largely ignored the complaints.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2021, with the headline 'Chinese planes nearly violated airspace, says Malaysia'. Subscribe