Thomas Daniel was quoted in Free Malaysia Today.
FMT Reporters, 1 June 2021
PETALING JAYA: Wisma Putra should summon the Chinese ambassador to protest the flight of 16 Chinese planes over Malaysian airspace yesterday, insists an army veteran’s group.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) said today Malaysian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept 16 People’s Liberation Army Air Force planes over Malaysian airspace yesterday, stating that the “suspicious” flight of the 16 air force planes were detected by the Air Defence Centre in Sarawak at 11.53am.
Speaking to FMT, National Patriots Association (Patriot) president Mohamed Arshad Raji said that the flights – believed to be the first of its kind – seriously jeopardised national security.
“I think the government should raise our objections to China,” he said.
“Wisma Putra should summon the Chinese ambassador to express our concern that any breach of our air space affects the integrity of our country’s defence and security.
“This is in keeping with the norms of international law. This is indeed an unfortunate incident, and all diplomatic measures must be taken by the government to lodge a protest with the China government.”
Arshad went on to question China’s motive for entering Malaysia’s airspace, pointing out that historically, China has not been a nation that “wants to colonise other countries”.
He also said that if the Chinese air force was trying to test their Malaysian counterpart’s air defence capabilities, they should have opted for “more militarily powerful countries’”.
“They know what our capabilities are and we know theirs. There is a mismatch,” said Arshad.
RMAF today said the Chinese planes were detected flying “in tactical formation” at between 23,000 feet and 27,000 feet above sea level at a speed of 290 knots entering the Malaysian Maritime Zone (ZMM).
RMAF scrambled Hawk 208 fighter jets from the Labuan Air Base’s 6th Squadron to intercept the planes after there was no response from them on orders to turn back. Instead, they headed towards Sarawak waters.
The Chinese planes eventually turned around and left in the same direction they entered the ZMM.
RMAF said the planes were identified as Ilyushin Il-76 and Xian Y-20 strategic transport planes, adding that the incident was a “serious threat” to the nation’s sovereignty and the safety of flights in Malaysian airspace.
Thomas Benjamin Daniel, a senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, said he could not remember RMAF coming out so strongly about such an incident before.
China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea as its sovereign territory, with Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan all also having overlapping claims over the strategic global shipping zone.
Chinese coast guard and navy ships intruded into Malaysian waters 89 times between 2016 and 2019, all of the intrusions happening in the hotly disputed South China Sea near the Spratlys.
“This is just the latest in a longstanding pattern of China demonstrating its ability to deploy assets in all parts of the contested airspace and waters,” Daniel told FMT.
“The fact that the RMAF has come out very publicly and strongly about this indicates the degree of concern it has.”
When contacted, a Wisma Putra spokesperson said there would be “no statement at the moment”.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said the incident had cast doubt on the country’s sovereignty and security.
“I call on the foreign minister to carry out his duty and seek an explanation from the People’s Republic of China about this incident.”
This article was first published in Free Malaysia Today on 1 June 2021.