South China Sea war fears surge as US backs Malaysia over Beijing warplane ‘intrusion’

South China Sea: Malaysia to summon Chinese envoy says expert

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Malaysia believes Beijing scrambled 16 aircraft near its sovereign airspace last week, prompting outrage. China has disputed this, with a military source insisting only two planes were involved.

The United States Air Force has supported the Royal Malaysian Air Force account of the Chinese incursion.

An officer from the Pacific Air Forces public affairs department told This Week In Asia: “We support our partners in the Royal Malaysian Air Force and encourage [China] to respect the sovereignty of all nations.”

US Pacific Air Forces insisted the number of Chinese aircraft was “closer to what the Royal Malaysian Air Force is tracking”, with the spokesman refusing to “get into the specifics about our collection methods” because of “operational security concerns”.

When asked about the incident during a media teleconference on Friday, Pacific Air Forces Commander, General Ken Wilsbach said the number of Chinese aircraft involved was probably “not as close to the Chinese number as what the Chinese said it was” but he said he needed to “go back to our sources to get the exact number”.

Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s foreign minister, condemned the “intrusion” by the Chinese aircraft last week.

The country scrambled jets on May 31 to visually confirm Chinese planes detected within 60 nautical miles of the eastern Malaysian state of Sarawak, flying in a “tactical formation”.

Malaysia identified the aircraft as Ilyushin Il-76s and Xian Y-20s.

However, a Chinese military source told the South China Morning Post Beijing only dispatched two transport aircraft to the South China Sea.

The source insisted their mission was to deliver essential supplies to soldiers stationed in Chinese-held territory.

China’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur also insisted the planes were conducting “routine flight training”, “did not target any country” and had “strictly abided by” international law without violating other countries’ airspace.

It marks the latest US intervention in South China Sea affairs, with Washington warning Beijing against aggressive action in the disputed waters.

Last month, Beijing claimed they “expelled” the USS Curtis Wilbur missile destroyer after it “trespassed” into its territory.

A spokesman for China’s Southern Theatre Command said China will “resolutely safeguard” its sovereignty and security in the highly contested region.

The US Navy released a statement explaining why the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur, was complying with international law.

The statement read: “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“The United States military will continue to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Chinese state media, The Global Times, published an op-ed suggesting Beijing must prepare for “an intense showdown” with the US – and a nuclear war.

Editor Hu Xijin wrote: “We must be prepared for an intense showdown between China and the US.

“The number of China’s nuclear warheads must reach the quantity that makes US elites shiver should they entertain the idea of engaging in a military confrontation with China.”

He also voiced his support for “rapidly” building up the number of commissioned nuclear warheads.

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