17 Februari 2016
RMAF F-5 Tiger II (photo : MalaysianWings)
Compared to many other nations in the region, Malaysia has a relationship to China that seems positively laid-back. The government in Kuala Lumpur has long held a relaxed attitude toward supposed Chinese aggression, and even the curious case of the mooring of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel in Malaysian waters hasn’t caused much fuss.
At some point around 2013, an island formed in an area of reefs known both as Luconia Shoals and as Gugusan Beting Patinggi Ali, some 80 miles off the Sarawak coast. The new island aroused some territorial interest, despite its location well inside Malaysia’s economic zone. Around the same time, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel dropped anchor in the shoals and didn’t leave.
Last year, a Malaysian minister insisted that the area belonged to Malaysia and that its navy and coast guard were monitoring the area “to ensure the sovereignty of the country.” In August, the Malaysian government said it had been sending weekly letters of protest to China. Toward the end of September, local fishermen reported being threatened by armed men on the Chinese ship.
Last June, the shoals had a Malaysian flag planted on them, apparently for the first time – not by the Malaysian government, but by a German-born Australian marine archaeologist Hans Berekoven, who discovered the wreck of the HMS Viscount Melbourne near the shoals. The Melbourne sank while sailing from Singapore to Macau in 1842.
This leisurely approach to territorial disputes seems to be reflected in the progress of the nation’s military procurement programs. A decision is expected this year on a replacement for the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s MiG-29 and F-5 fleets, though the discussion has been ongoing since the start of the decade. All the usual suspects – Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab JAS 39 Gripen – are in the running.
One new aircraft type is in service: The RMAF took delivery of its first Airbus A400M last year, and the second of four arrived in January.