Malaysia says 100 China boats intrude into its waters

KUALA LUMPUR: About 100 Chinese-registered boats have been detected encroaching in Malaysian waters near the Luconia Shoals in the South China Sea, a Malaysian minister said.
Shahidan Kassim, a minister in charge of national security, said the government has dispatched the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the navy to the area to monitor the situation.
Shahidan said Malaysia would take legal action if the boats were found to have trespassed into its exclusive economic zone, Bernama cited him as saying.
The Malaysian maritime agency official said three of its boats were monitoring the Chinese fleet.
“Our orders are not to provoke them in any way,” said the official who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to media.
Shahidan and other ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The reported encroachment on Thursday is the latest action by Chinese vessels to raise concern in Southeast Asia, where four countries object to China’s claim to virtually the whole of the South China Sea.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday that Chinese boats have a right to be in the waters.
“I want to point out that it is the fishing season in the South China Sea now, and according to usual practice, Chinese fishing vessels are fishing normally in the relevant waters at this time each year,” Hong said.
Hong Lei asked about the Malaysian report at a briefing on Friday, said he did not “understand the details” of what Malaysia had said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims. Tensions have ramped up since China began a massive land reclamation program in 2013.
The strategically important area has some of the world’s busiest sea lanes and is also rich in fisheries and may hold underground oil and natural gas reserves.
Malaysia’s national security minister Shahidan Kassim said assets from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the navy have been sent to the area near the Luconia Shoals to monitor the situation, the Bernama news agency reported.
Shahidan did not specify what type of Chinese vessels had been spotted but a Maritime Enforcement Agency official said they were fishing boats guarded by two Chinese coast guard vessels.