South China Sea crisis: Chinese ship risks close call with Malaysian vessel in stand-off | World | News

The drama began to unfold when a Chinese government survey ship started tagging an exploration vessel operated by Malaysia’s state oil company Petronas in disputed waters. China’s Haiyang Dizhi 8 entered waters near Malaysia on Thursday, according to ship tracking website Marine Traffic.

Security sources said the Chinese vessels had now sailed close to the Petronas-operated West Capella.

One of the sources said a Vietnamese vessel was also tagging the West Capella.

The area is close to waters claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam and China, through its sweeping claim to most of the South China Sea within its U-shaped “nine-dash line” that is not recognised by its neighbours or most of the world.

The United States has accused China of taking advantage of the distraction of the coronavirus pandemic to advance its presence in the South China Sea.

On Wednesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was conducting normal activities and accused US officials of smearing Beijing.

A Malaysian security source said the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was flanked at one point on Friday by more than 10 Chinese vessels, including those belonging to maritime militia and the coast guard. That source also mentioned the Vietnamese vessel.

READ MORE:Fears of conflict surge as China accuses Vietnam of ramming ship

The Malaysian prime minister’s office, the defense ministry and Petronas did not respond to requests for comment.

Zubil Mat Som, the head of Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency, confirmed that the Haiyang Dizhi 8 was in Malaysian waters.

He said: “We do not know its purpose but it is not carrying out any activities against the law.”

Greg Poling, director of the AMTI, said China was using intimidation tactics as it had in resource-rich Vietnamese waters, where Spanish energy firm Repsol has pulled at least two projects in recent years following pressure from China.

He said: “Beijing doesn’t want to pick a fight here but it wants to intimidate.

“China hasn’t slowed down at all despite the coronavirus pandemic.”

Vietnam lodged an official protest with China this month following the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing boat it said had been rammed by a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel in the disputed waters.

The Chinese survey vessel’s moves this week come at a time China has been sending medical help to Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, which has reported more than 5,000 coronavirus infections.

China claims almost all of the energy-rich South China Sea, also a major trade route each year.

The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.

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