Kuala Lumpur | China responded on Wednesday to Malaysian protests after the infiltration of 16 Chinese military planes from a Southeast Asian country, saying it was “normal training”.
Malaysia on Monday sent fighters to intercept Chinese military transport planes found on the island of Borneo over a portion of the South China Sea claimed by the two countries.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called the theft an “intrusion” and said his country would formally protest and summon the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia.
But a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur said the operation was “general training for the Chinese air force and did not target any country.”
“Under international law, Chinese military aircraft can enjoy freedom of flight,” he argued.
And Chinese planes did not enter third country airspace, the spokesman said.
The Chinese planes flew 110 kilometers off the coast of Borneo, Indonesia, and failed to respond to consultation attempts, prompting Malaysia to send its fighters, the Malaysian Air Force said.
The Chinese planes returned before entering Malaysian airspace.
But the Malaysian foreign minister described the planes as flying over the country’s Special Economic Zone (EEZ), calling it an “attack on Malaysian airspace and sovereignty”.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea and has built military bases on small islands and atolls in the region, much to the chagrin of many countries over claims to waters neighboring their territory.
Relations between China and Malaysia are generally friendly, with the incident taking place on Monday following rising tensions over maritime issues.
The China charting ship collided with a Malaysian ship looking for oil from Borning last year.
There are also claims on the South China Sea in Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan.
The United States sent military ships to the area to assert its rights to freedom of navigation, much to China’s anger.