The Malaysian government is facing public pressure to resist following reports of the Chinese coast guard patrolling waters claimed by Malaysia.
From December to late February, three Chinese coast guard ships had been patrolling off the Malaysian coast of Borneo.
A Malaysian coast guard ship, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, tracked the boats. The initiative is part of the U.S. Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS.
The Chinese boats were found near Luconia Shoals, a small area of land in Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone.
The report from CSIS says Malaysia also spotted 100 fishing boats escorted by the Chinese coast guard at the same area in March 2016. The Chinese coast guard had been there since 2013.
Pressure on Malaysia for response
Experts say the finding will add pressure on Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak to respond against China.
Colin Koh is a maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He feels that these issues will be problematic for Razak.
“This is going to become a particularly problematic issue that he will find very hard to deal with," Koh said.
Economic relations a factor
Razak usually avoids direct conflict with China. The country is Malaysia’s top trading partner and its biggest source of direct foreign investment.
Jonathan Spangler is director of the South China Sea Think Tank in Taipei. He says, “For Malaysia, which has sought to maintain friendly relations with China, publicly condemning Chinese actions would disrupt that delicate balance and could have serious economic and other repercussions.”
Other countries concerned
In the past few years, China has reduced economic activities with South Korea, Taiwan, and countries in Europe when it is unhappy with their political decisions.
CSIS says the presence of Chinese boats at Luconia Shoals is China’s efforts to establish control over the “nine-dash line.”
China claims more than 90 percent of the South China Sea with the “nine-dash line” boundary. The shoals, 100 kilometers north of Borneo in Malaysia and 2,000 kilometers south from China, fall within the nine-dash line.
Several Southeast Asian nations have claims to parts of the South China Sea for its abundance of fisheries and potential oil reserves.
Colin Koh says people in Malaysia feel their government reacts too passively to China’s ship movements. And public pressure will rise fast if China were to stop Malaysian boats in the exclusive economic zone.
I’m Phil Dierking
Ralph Jennings wrote this story for VOA News. Phil Dierking adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
abundance - n. a large amount of something
boundary - n. something, such as a river, a fence, or an imaginary line, that shows where an area ends and another area begins
delicate - adj. easily broken or damaged
escort - v. to go with someone or something to give protection or guidance
patrol - v. the act of walking or going around or through an area, building, etc., in order to make sure that it is safe : the act of patrolling an area
repercussions - n. something usually bad or unpleasant that happens as a result of an action, statement, etc., and that usually affects people for a long time
reserves - n. levels of primary energy resources found in the ground
passively - adv. done in an accepting way, without active response