Chinese Ship Seen Moving South Near Malaysia Amid Rising South China Sea Tensions

By Reuters
April 16, 2020China News
Chinese Ship Seen Moving South Near Malaysia Amid Rising South China Sea Tensions
Warships and fighter jets of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a military display in the South China Sea on April 12, 2018. (Reuters)

A Chinese survey ship embroiled in a standoff with Vietnamese vessels moved south near Malaysia, shipping data showed on April 16, amid accusations that China is using the pandemic to assert its presence in the South China Sea.

The Haiyang Dizhi 8 was spotted off Vietnam this week, returning after being closely tracked last year in the resource-rich waters, a potential global flashpoint as the United States challenges China’s sweeping maritime claims.

The ship appeared to have started a survey in waters 218 miles off the coasts of Brunei and Malaysia on Thursday, according to data from Marine Traffic, a website that tracks shipping.

That appeared to be just north of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), near waters claimed by both Vietnam and Malaysia.

A U.S. Navy hover craft speeds past the USS Wasp, U.S. Navy multipurpose amphibious assault ship, during the amphibious landing exercises as part of the annual joint US-Philippines military exercise on the shores of San Antonio town, facing the South China sea, Zambales province on April 11, 2019. (Ted Aljibe/AFP via Getty Images)

A Malaysian coastguard vessel, the KM Pekan, is shadowing the Chinese ship, a Malaysian maritime source said, declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The Haiyang Dizhi 8 had been flanked by as many as seven Chinese coastguard vessels that have since moved away, two sources familiar with the matter said. The Malaysian navy was monitoring the situation, one of the sources said.

The foreign ministries of Malaysia, Brunei, and China did not respond to requests for comment.

On Wednesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman had said the ship was conducting normal activities.

The presence of the Haiyang Dizhi 8 in the South China Sea comes amid movement curbs imposed by Southeast Asian countries to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

The U.S. State Department had urged Beijing to focus on combating the pandemic and “stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea.”

CCP Officers
Chinese police wear protective masks as they stand guard on a main road in Beijing on Jan. 31, 2020. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

China’s U-shaped “nine-dash line” on its maps marks a vast expanse of the waters that it claims, including large expanses in the south that are also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei.

Earlier this year, the Washington think tank Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) said China has maintained a near-constant presence in Luconia Shoals, off the coast of Malaysia’s Sarawak state on Borneo.

Last year, at least one China Coast Guard vessel spent weeks in waters close to an oil rig in a Vietnamese oil block, operated by Russia’s Rosneft, while the Haiyang Dizhi 8 conducted suspected oil exploration surveys in Vietnam’s EEZ.

By Rozanna Latiff and James Pearson

Epoch Times staff contributed to this report. 

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