KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia will protest against what it said was the intrusion of a Chinese coast guard ship into its waters north of Borneo, the Wall Street Journal reported, in another departure from the country’s soft approach to the South China Sea dispute.
China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.
Malaysian National Security Minister Shahidan Kassim was quoted as telling the Journal that Prime Minister Najib Razak would raise the issue directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The report comes after Shahidan posted pictures on Facebook of what he said was a Chinese coast guard ship anchored at Luconia Shoals, an area of islets and reefs about 150 km (93 miles) north of Malaysian Borneo.
The shoals are inside the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone claimed by Malaysia and about 2,000 km from mainland China, he said, adding that any foreign vessels entering the area were “intruders”.
“This is not an area with overlapping claims. In this case, we’re taking diplomatic action,” Shahidan was quoted as saying in the report on Monday.
Shahidan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he did “not have knowledge” of the case and declined further comment.
Malaysia has generally adopted a cautious line in its dealings with Beijing over disputed territory in the South China Sea, in contrast to Vietnam and the Philippines, which have railed against perceived Chinese expansionism.
But two Chinese naval exercises in quick succession around the James Shoal, which lies inside Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, prompted Kuala Lumpur to change its approach last year, senior diplomats previously told Reuters.
More recently, Beijing has angered its Southeast Asian neighbors and caused consternation in Washington and Tokyo by creating artificial islands in the potentially mineral-rich waters, with harbors and runways fit for military use.
On Monday, Group of Seven nations said they were concerned about tensions in the East and South China Seas and called for countries to abide by international law.
Hong said the G7 statement was “far from the facts”.
“We urge the G7 to earnestly respect the facts, abandon prejudice, stop making irresponsible remarks and earnestly do more things to help solve the problem,” he said.
The United States has said that while it does not take sides in the dispute, it is determined to keep vital shipping lanes open.
Reporting by Yantoultra Ngui; Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING; Editing by Stephen Coates and Nick Macfie