KUALA LUMPUR: Just as two submarines from China visited Malaysia this week, two Russian vessels are visiting the Philippines, and this is turning heads.
In addition, Russia says it wants to hold naval exercises in the South China Sea with Malaysia, China and the Philippines.
Defence analysts are trying to figure out how all this will play out as a new president, Donald Trump, takes over in the United States on Jan 20.
The CNS Chang Xing Dao and CNS Chang Cheng of the People’s Liberation Army Navy visited Sabah, according to a statement by the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN).
The RMN said the submarines were in Malaysia as part of regular navy-to-navy interactions and that this was part of a growing defence diplomacy. It did not give further details.
However, according to a report in The Diplomat, the presence of Chinese submarines in Malaysia at the start of 2017 has “drawn attention”.
The report noted that other Chinese vessels had been making more frequent visits to Malaysia during the past few years.
As an example, it said from Oct 7-11 last year, three Chinese vessels – CNS Xiang Tan, CNS Zhou Shan, and CNS Chao Hu – arrived in Malaysia’s Port Klang for a five-day visit.
Then, too, the RMN had described the visit as a “defence diplomacy initiative” to strengthen cooperation between the two navies.
Although Malaysia and China signed a formal defence pact in 2005, defence relations have strengthened – and quickly – only in the last year or two.
Both countries have overlapping claims on parts of the South China Sea, and China has been somewhat aggresive in recent years in staking its claim. The Philippines, too, is involved in the dispute over the South China Sea.
Meanwhile, the Straits Times reported Rear-Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet, as saying: “We really hope that in a few years, military exercises… in your region and the South China Sea will take a very big part for the participants, not only Russia and the Philippines, but also China and Malaysia.”
He was speaking at a news briefing in Manila on Tuesday after the anti-submarine destroyer Admiral Tributs docked in Manila.
The Tributs and and sea tanker Boris Butoma are on a four-day visit to the Philippines.
He said Russia was interested in helping fight terrorism and piracy in the region.
“Our exercises with you will help fight these problems. We will show what we can do, and we will see what you can do and show us.”