Malaysia detains 60 Chinese nationals, 6 vessels for trespassing in territorial waters

Malaysia’s maritime authorities said they had detained 60 Chinese nationals and six Chinese-registered fishing vessels in Malaysian territorial waters.
October 13, 2020 | 08:52
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File photo of a man standing atop a boat in the waters off Malaysia. Photo: AFP

Malaysia’s maritime authorities said they had detained 60 Chinese nationals and six Chinese-registered fishing vessels they said were trespassing into the Southeast Asian country’s waters.

Malaysia reported 89 intrusions by Chinese coastguard and navy ships between 2016 and 2019, amid escalating tensions between the United States and China over Beijing’s claims to most of the resource-rich South China Sea (Bien Dong Sea), which is also a major trade route.

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 October 9.

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Three of the six Chinese ships moored at Tanjung Sedili, Malaysia on Oct. 10. Photo: Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency

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,” MMEA regional director Mohd Zulfadli Nayan was cited by Reuters as saying.

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 some malfunction.

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.

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In this file picture, Chinese boats fish at the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Malaysia has detained 60 Chinese fishermen for entering territorial waters. (REUTERS)

The arrests in Malaysia coincide with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's tour of Southeast Asian nations. The four-day trip, which takes in stops in Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Singapore is intended to help bolster regional ties amid growing pressure from Washington and continued fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

China's Ministry of Commerce said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have become each other's largest trading partner, with total trade from January to August reaching $416.5 billion, CNN said, citing Chinese state media.

But tensions between the bloc of Southeast Asian nations and China remain over aggressive moves by Beijing throughout the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, almost all of which is claimed by China.

In recent years, despite the objections of its neighbors and an international tribunal ruling, Beijing has militarized islands and reefs throughout the sea, and stepped up patrols of the region, as the Chinese fishing fleet expands outwards, often trespassing into other countries' territorial waters.

While Washington has long objected to Beijing's actions, the US stepped up its challenges this year: it formally rejected China's claims as illegal, and sanctioned dozens of Chinese companies for building the artificial islands. In July, two US Navy aircraft carriers conducted joint military drills in the sea for the first time in six years -- a strong show of force.

The US has also increased engagement with the Quad, an alliance with Australia, Japan and India which some see as becoming a sort of Asian North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), much to Beijing's chagrin. Speaking last week, a US State Department official said that a "sudden turn toward gross aggression by the Chinese Government in its entire periphery" has increased the willingness of Beijing's neighbors to push back, and made "the Quad actually matter and function this time around."

Chinese maritime expansion isn't only happening in the South China Sea

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A Japan Coast Guard spokesman said this is the 21st day that Chinese boats have entered its waters since late August. Photo: JCG_KOHO/TWITTER

On October 12, the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) said that two Chinese vessels entered what Tokyo regards as its territorial waters near the Senkakus, a hotly disputed set of islands in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyus in China.

The two Chinese Coast Guard patrol ships have been in the area since October 11, Japanese authorities said, and have attempted to approach Japanese fishing ships in the area to get them to leave what China regards as its territorial waters.

Japan -- which recently increased its defense budget to the highest ever amount -- has complained about "relentless" intrusions into the waters around the Senkakus, which encompass rich fishing grounds, and potential oil and natural gas deposits. This is the 18th time in 22 days that Chinese ships have entered Japanese waters, JCG said./.

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