US Sides With Malaysia in South China Sea Dispute With Beijing

Malaysia says China flew 16 planes within 60 miles of its coast, although China says it only flew two planes in the area

The US military expressed support for Malaysia after the Southeast Asian country said 16 Chinese warplanes came close to its airspace. Beijing is disputing the claim and said they only sent two aircraft to the area for a routine mission.

On May 31st, Malaysia said it scrambled jets and saw the Chinese warplanes over the South China Sea, about 60 nautical miles from the Malaysian state of Sarawak, which is located on the island of Borneo.

Whenever there is an incident in the region between China and its neighbors, the US is quick to get involved. In comments to This Week in Asia, an officer from US Pacific Air Forces expressed support for Malaysia. “We support our partners in the Royal Malaysian Air Force and encourage [China] to respect the sovereignty of all nations,” the officer said.

Discussing the discrepancy between the number of planes that were observed, the officer said Pacific Air Forces believes the number is “closer to what the Royal Malaysian Air Force is tracking” than what China claimed.

While the US said China should respect the “sovereignty” of all nations and refrain from these types of flights, the US constantly flies warplanes near China’s coast. In March, monitors observed a US spy plane that flew within 25.33 nautical miles of mainland China, the closest US flight to China’s coast that’s been recorded.

The US has stepped up its military activity in the region as part of its foreign policy shift in focus that puts China as the Pentagon’s top priority. In April, a US aircraft carrier conducted exercises with Malaysia‚Äôs Air Force in the South China Sea.

Author: Dave DeCamp

Dave DeCamp is the news editor of, follow him on Twitter @decampdave.