EastAsiaIntel.com reports that “normally reticent Malaysia” is joining its neighbors in pushing back against Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Malaysian government has recently sped up its measures against China by announcing the establishment of a Marine force and a naval base near a site claimed by China. The dispute centers on James Shoal, merely 80 miles off the coast of Malaysia, yet more than 1,100 miles away from China.
Rowan Callick reports for The Australian, Oct. 23, 2013, that the new Malaysian naval base will be about 100km from James Shoal, which is also claimed by China.
In March, China’s navy conducted a substantial exercise at the shoal, off the coast of the Malaysian state of Sarawak on northern Borneo, described by analyst Gary Li as “not just a few ships here and there, but a crack amphibious landing ship carrying marines and hovercraft and backed by some of the best escort ships in the PLAN fleet. We’ve never seen anything like this that far south in terms of quantity or quality.”
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammudin Tun Hussein said the Royal Malaysian Navy would set up a base at Bintulu in Sarawak to protect the region, and national oil and gas reserves. He also said Malaysia would establish its first marine battalion, to be drawn from army, navy and air force elements, but with the core to come from parachutists.
Malaysia is setting up this marine battalion in part to counter future incursions from militant supporters of the ancient Sultanate of Sulu, who have attempted to re-establish an independent state on an archipelago between Mindanao in the southern Philippines, and the Malaysian state of Sabah.
The Malaysian government has discussed with the US support for the establishment of its new marine force, chiefly involving training including personnel exchanges, as well as the sale of some equipment that is becoming surplus as Afghanistan operations wind down.
According to IHS Jane’s newsletter, Malaysia is also holding talks with France and South Korea for the purchase of an attack helicopter for marine use, as well as a replacement for its only amphibious ship, which was destroyed by fire four years ago.
Only six weeks ago, Mr Hishammudin said he was not concerned about how often Chinese ships patrolled the areas it claims in the South China Sea. “If their intention is not to go to war, it is not of much concern,” he said. “I think we have enough level of trust that we will not be moved by day-to-day politics or emotions.”