Malaysia summoned China’s ambassador on Monday to protest the presence and activities of Chinese vessels off the coasts of Sabah and Sarawak states, describing the incident as an encroachment.
The incident comes amid rising concerns among some Southeast Asian countries that a new security pact that allows Australia to acquire nuclear submarines could provoke China and spark an arms race in a region where nations are disputing territorial claims over the South China Sea.
The presence of these ships, including a survey vessel, are “inconsistent” with the country’s economic zone act as well as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, known as UNCLOS, Malaysia’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement late Monday.
This would be the second time Malaysia has summoned the China’s ambassador this year and it signals some assertiveness as Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob warned on Sunday that there were be no compromises if there’s a threat in South China Sea. In June, Malaysia protested an “intrusion” by 16 Chinese air force planes over the disputed waters.
China’s foreign affairs ministry said on Tuesday the survey vessel was conducting a “normal scientific investigation” in its own territory.
“China is willing to keep communicating with Malaysia on the issue, and maintain the development of China-Malaysia relationship and the stability and peace of the South China Sea,” the spokesman’s office at the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.
Malaysia is one of several countries in the region that disputes China’s claims over the South China Sea, while Beijing regularly asserts sovereignty over about four-fifths of the waters. Encompassing 1.4 million square miles (3.6 million square kilometres), this body of water is bigger than the Mediterranean Sea and has untapped oil and gas reserves.