South China Sea: Beijing snaps at Malaysia after nationals detained in latest row

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Malaysia’s maritime authorities said they had detained 60 Chinese nationals and six Chinese-registered fishing vessels in the highly disputed South China Sea. Malaysia have reported a total of 89 intrusions by Chinese coastguard and navy ships between 2016 and 2019, amid escalating tensions over Beijing’s claims to most of the resource-rich area.

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said the fishing vessels and crew were detained in an operation off the coast of the southern state of Johor on Friday.

Mohd Zulfadli Nayan, MMEA regional director, said in a statement: “Further checks found that all the vessels registered in Qinhuangdao, China, were manned by six captains and 54 crew who are Chinese nationals aged between 31 and 60 years.”

The MMEA said the vessels, which had no cargo when detained, were believed to have been en route to Mauritania but had to stop due to a malfunction.

Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, said at a daily news briefing in Beijing today that officials from China’s embassy in Malaysia have visited the sailors, and the vessels were in Malaysian waters when they were detained.

Speaking today, Mr Lijan added: “On October 9 local time, six Chinese fishing boats were detained in Malaysia’s waters. This case is still under investigation.

“The Chinese Embassy in Malaysia has sent officials to visit the detained crew and offer them epidemic prevention supplies and necessary assistance.

“The Chinese side has asked the Malaysian side to carry out a fair investigation in accordance with the law, ensure the legitimate rights and interests of the involved Chinese citizens and keep us updated with the latest developments.”

Earlier this year, a Chinese research ship spent a month surveying in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, amid a standoff with a Malaysian oil exploration vessel near disputed waters.

Nearly all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea are claimed by Beijing, which has established military outposts on artificial islands in the area.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.

The United States has accused Beijing of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate Asian neighbours who might want to exploit the area’s extensive oil and gas reserves.

China also recently condemned Japan for carrying out anti-submarine drills in the disputed waters on Friday.

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Japan’s Maritime Self-defence Force deployed three vessels including a helicopter aircraft carrier and a submarine.

The purpose of the exercise was “to boost their tactical capability”, they said in a statement, without giving more details on the geographical location of the drills.

China’s state-backed Global Times newspaper, noting the latest Japanese drills, said the frequent conducting of military activities in the South China Sea is not conducive to the security and stability of the area and is firmly opposed by Beijing.


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