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South China Sea tinderbox: Chinese jets enter rival airspace – opposition scrambles planes

South China Sea: Expert on China's standoff with Philippines

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Malaysia said the incident took place on Monday just 60 miles from the Malaysian controlled segment of the island of Borneo. Malaysia said 16 Xian Y-20 and Ilyushin iI-76 military transport aircraft entered its territory.

They were flying using an “in-trail” formation at between 23,000 and 27,000 feet.

The Malaysian air force scrambled warplanes in response to this “suspicious activity”.

It described the incursion as a “serious threat to national sovereignty and flight safety”.

Malaysian foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he would write a note of protest to Beijing.

He is demanding China explain its “breach of airspace and sovereignty”.

Mr Hussein added: “Malaysia’s stand is clear – having friendly diplomatic relations with any countries does not mean that we will compromise on our national security.”

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, the world’s busiest shipping lane.

It has been building military based on islands, both natural and artificially created, in the area.

However, the Chinese claim overlaps with rival bids from Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines as well as Malaysia.

The US regularly sends warships on “freedom of navigation” patrols through the South China Sea, to dispute Chinese sovereignty.

In 2020, there was a month-long standoff within Malaysia’s economic area after a Chinese survey ship entered uninvited.

On Tuesday, Beijing reacted with fury, after Australia and New Zealand condemned its behaviour in the South China Sea.

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In followed a joint statement condemning Chinese behaviour from Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and his New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern.

They “expressed serious concern over developments in the South China Sea, including the continued militarisation of disputed features and an intensification of destabilising activities at sea”.

The leaders also voiced “grave concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang”, in China’s east.

Beijing has placed more than one million Uyghur Muslims, and other minorities, into detention camps.

South China Sea: US ‘creating risks’ says China

There have been allegations of forced labour, torture and sexual abuse in the facilities.

China has denied the allegations and claims it is trying to combat religious extremism.

In response to the Australian and New Zealand statement, Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign minister spokesman, said Beijing was “deeply concerned”.

He added: “The leaders of Australia and New Zealand, with irresponsible remarks on China’s internal affairs relating to Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the South China Sea issue, have made groundless accusations against China, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs and seriously violated the international law and basic norms governing international relations.”

Relations between Australia and China collapsed last year, after Canberra demanded an investigation into the origins of coronavirus.

In response, trade restrictions were introduced targeting Australian beef, wine, coal and barley.
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