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Incursion by 16 Chinese PLAAF transports puts Malaysia, Southeast Asia on notice

A PLA Air Force Y-20 military transport aircraft seen off of Malaysia on May 31.
FPI / June 13, 2021

By Richard Fisher

China said it was a routine mission, but on May 31 the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) entered Malaysia’s “maritime airspace” with sixteen large transport aircraft arrayed in a tactical formation that would be used to perform a strike by Airborne troops.

The 16 PLAAF transports were detected off of the state of Sarawak on May 31, and while they entered the airspace over Malaysia Exclusive Economic Zone, they did not violate coastal territorial airspace. The transports were intercepted by Royal Malaysian Air Force British Aerospace Hawk fighters.

News of this military exercise was greeted with fear and confusion in Malaysia, whose governments have been forward-leaning in their desire to maintain friendly relations with Beijing.

Malaysia issued a “note of protest” to China and Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called it a “serious threat to national sovereignty.”

When queried on June 2, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Weng Wenbin stated, “To my knowledge it was a routine training conducted by China’s air force over waters to the south of Nansha Islands. It doesn’t target any country. During the training, China’s air force strictly complied with international law and didn’t enter the air space of any other country.”

A June 2 article in the Global Times also denied the exercise was a threat to Malaysia, asserted that such transports could also be used for “humanitarian” missions, but ominously warned, “As the PLA develops, training operations may become more frequent, but China will not pose a threat to other countries.”

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