China submarine visits Malaysia

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The arrival of a Chinese submarine in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, is creating waves worldwide with media from the US to India running stories on it and raising questions about China’s naval activities.

According to a New Delhi Television (NDTV) report, the pictures of the submarine – uploaded onto the Royal Malaysian Navy’s official Twitter page – is a matter of serious concern to the Indian Navy.

In the US, The Wall Street Journal headlined its story two days ago this way: “Chinese Submarine’s Malaysian Port Call Signals Regional Power Shift”.

The Chinese Defence Ministry in a statement on Friday to the Journal said the submarine docked in Sabah for supplies and for its crew to rest after anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia.

But the NDTV report said the Indian military doesn’t buy that story. Its report said the Indian Navy has pointed out that “advance military assets” like submarines aren’t “appropriate” for taking on Somali pirates who terrorise the seas in “small skiffs”.

The Indians are worried that Chinese submarines are instead tracking their own submarines and ships in the Indian Ocean.

The Wall Street Journal started off its prominent report this way: “A Chinese attack submarine made an unprecedented stopover in Malaysia this week in a rare public display of China’s expanding undersea force and a further sign of power realignment in Southeast Asia.”

It said a Malaysian navy official confirmed to the Journal that the submarine arrived last Tuesday to stay until yesterday.

It noted that Chinese naval ships had docked in Malaysia before but quoted an analyst as saying a visit from a submarine was “qualitatively different”.

“It signifies a higher level of trust involved on the host country’s part, because of the sensitive nature of submarine operations, as stealthy war-fighting or reconnaissance platforms,” Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney said to the Journal.

The analyst read the submarine visit as a sign that Chinese subs could operate with Malaysia’s approval in the southern extremes of the South China Sea, including around the disputed Spratly Islands, the Journal said.

The American newspaper also hinted that the visit signalled a waning of American power in the region. It noted that the China sub’s visit to Malaysia came as two Russian warships docked in The Philippines, where its president Rodrigo Duterte has called for a shift away from the country’s traditional ally, the US.

The China submarine that visited Sabah is believed to be a Type 039 “Song” class diesel electric submarine.

Last year, Malaysia stepped up military ties with China, including agreeing to buy four Littoral Mission ships.

The presence of Chinese warships in the region is a sore point for a number of countries due to the ongoing South China Sea dispute in which China lays claim to most of the sea despite a number of territories also being claimed by Malaysia, The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Indonesia.

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