PETALING JAYA: The country’s “political instability and uncertainty” may be the biggest factor in determining how the recent intrusion of 16 Chinese military aircraft over hotly-contested waters will shape Malaysia-China policy, says a local professor.
Putrajaya accused Beijing of breaching its sovereignty with the May 31 incident over the South China Sea, which a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur said was a “routine flight training”.
“I think we really need to get our house in order, and that’s the biggest challenge here in Malaysia,” said Kuik Cheng-Chwee, who heads the Centre for Asian Studies at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
“Our political instability and uncertainty is creating a lot of fronts, regardless of what other external actors are doing to us.
“That’s the single most important factor that I think will affect many other external equations,” he said during an online forum, adding that the US-China rivalry, and Malaysia’s hesitancy at being “trapped” between the two superpowers, was another key factor.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) said Malaysian fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the 16 “suspicious” People’s Liberation Army Air Force planes over Malaysian airspace which were detected flying “in tactical formation” when entering the Malaysian Maritime Zone (ZMM) off Sarawak.
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 after being ordered to turn back.
The Chinese planes eventually turned around and left in the same direction they entered the ZMM.
Kuik noted that since 2013, Malaysia has seen an increased show of presence by China in the resource-rich South China Sea, where roughly RM12.5 trillion worth of maritime trade passes annually.
He added that the recent flight seemed to suggest that China is moving from “a show of presence to a show of force”, which Kuik said “is kind of alarming”.
“But the multi-million dollar question here is China going to use that force?.
“If China shows force or makes its presence felt without physically harming our territory or interests, I don’t think we will depart from our current policy.”
The forum, titled “South China Sea Disputes: What it means to Malaysia-China Relations”, was organised by Bait Al-Amanah, NAHEL Endowment for Peace and Z Consulting Group.