South China Sea drama: Malaysia scrambles jets to intercept Chinese aircraft, plans diplomatic protest
Iran Press TV
Wednesday, 02 June 2021 8:00 AM
The South China Sea has turned into the scene of a fresh drama, with Malaysia complaining that a recent maneuver by Chinese military aircraft near its airspace was an intrusion and a breach of its sovereignty, and China insisting that the routine flight training was completely within international law.
Malaysia's Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Tuesday that he would summon China's ambassador in the Southeast Asian country over the maneuver in airspace near the East Malaysian state of Sarawak that was tantamount to a "breach of Malaysian airspace and sovereignty".
"Malaysia's stand is clear – having friendly diplomatic relations with any countries does not mean that we will compromise on our national security," Hishammuddin said.
The Malaysian minister added that his ministry will also issue a formal diplomatic note of protest over the incident to the Chinese ambassador.
A day earlier, Malaysia scrambled its jet fighters to confront Chinese aircraft passing over airspace disputed between the two neighboring Asian countries.
Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) jet planes, RMAF said in its statement
RMAF said the flights of the Chinese aircraft were first detected by its Air Defense Center in Sarawak at 11.53 a.m. on Monday, approaching the Kota Kinabalu Flight Information Region from the south.
Sixteen Chinese aircraft "flying in tactical formation" were detected between 23,000 feet and 27,000 feet above sea level at a speed of 290 knots, entering Malaysia's maritime zone, it noted.
The RMAF statement added that the Chinese pilots did not respond to Malaysian air traffic controllers' repeated calls demanding the aircraft to identify themselves.
After getting no response, to undertake "visual identification" of the approaching aircraft, the Malaysian air force scrambled Hawk 208 fighter jets from the 6th squadron of its Labuan Air Base.
The aircraft were subsequently identified to be PLAAF Ilyushin 1l-76s and Xian Y-20s planes.
The Chinese aircraft later left from the south, it noted.
The Malaysian air force said taking into consideration the number of flights in the airspace, the unauthorized overflight of Chinese aircraft posed a "serious threat."
"This incident is a serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety," it stated.
China, in response, dismissed Malaysia's claims and said the "reported activities" were part of routine flight training that "do not target any country" and abide by international law.
A Chinese embassy spokesman separately said Chinese military aircraft "enjoy the freedom of overflight in the relevant airspace".
"During this training, the Chinese military aircraft strictly abided by the relevant international law and did not enter the territorial airspace of any other country," the spokesman noted, adding, "China and Malaysia are friendly neighbors, and China is willing to continue bilateral friendly consultations with Malaysia to jointly maintain regional peace and stability."
China is involved in territorial disputes with a number of countries over the South China Sea.
Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei have overlapping claims with China to parts of the Sea.
Provocative maneuvers by the United States in the region have complicated the situation.
The US says it wants freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.
Beijing has on multiple occasions warned that the presence of US naval vessels could endanger peace and stability in the strategic region.
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