KUALA LUMPUR Jan 29 Malaysia's navy chief has
denied a report that three Chinese navy ships patrolled an area
claimed by the Southeast Asian country, saying the Chinese
exercise took place hundreds of miles to the north in
Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported that an amphibious
landing craft and two destroyers patrolled the James Shoal on
Sunday, 50 miles (80 km) off the coast of Malaysia's Sarawak
state, and held a ceremony in which they swore to safeguard
The reported activity at the southernmost tip of Beijing's
sweeping claims over the South China Sea appeared to be the
latest sign of its territorial assertiveness that has boosted
tensions with claimants such as the Philippines and Vietnam.
Royal Malaysian Navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar, in comments
published by the New Straits Times on Wednesday, said the
Chinese exercise, involving its newly commissioned aircraft
carrier and a submarine, took place 1,000 nautical miles away
from Malaysia's 200 nautical mile economic exlusion zone.
He said Malaysia and the United States had been informed of
the exercises beforehand.
"There has been no act of provocation on the part of the
Chinese or threat to our sovereignty as they are conducting
their exercise in international waters," the pro-government
newspaper quoted him as saying.
China's aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, completed its first
sea trials and returned to port on Jan. 1, according to Xinhua,
an apparent contradiction with the Malaysian navy chief's
Compared to the Philippines and Vietnam, Malaysia has taken
a low-key approach to its overlapping claims with China, its
largest trade partner.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Malaysian Prime Minister
Najib Razak agreed, during Xi's visit to Malaysia last year, to
elevate ties to a "comprehensive strategic partnership". The two
nations are to hold their first joint military exercises this
But there are signs that Malaysia's approach could shift as
China presses huge claims in the oil and gas-rich maritime area.
Malaysia protested to China last March against the incursion by
four Chinese warships in the James Shoal, which Beijing calls
the Zengmu Reef and which lies about 1,800 km (1,120 miles)
south of the Chinese mainland.
In April, a Chinese maritime surveillance ship returned to
James Shoal to leave behind steel markers to assert its claim.
Malaysia's defence minister announced in October that the
country would establish a marine corps and set up a naval base
in the coastal town of Bintulu near the James Shoal.
China upset the Philippines and the United States this month
when rules went into force demanding fishing boats seek
permission to enter waters under the jurisdiction of China's
southern province of Hainan, an area the provincial government
says covers much of the South China Sea.
Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines claim
parts of the South China Sea. China has a separate dispute with
Japan in the East China Sea.
(Reporting By Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Ron Popeski)