60 Chinese nationals were detained during an operation off the eastern coast of Johor, the southern Malaysian state which borders Singapore. Their vessels, all of which were registered in Qinhuangdao, a port in northern China, were en route to Mauritania, West Africa, when they trespassed in Malaysian waters, the country’s maritime authorities said.
Malaysia reported 89 intrusions by Chinese coastguard and navy ships between 2016 and 2019, as tensions continue to escalate between the United States and China over Beijing’s claims to most of the resource-rich South China Sea, which is also a major trade route.
The arrests in Malaysia coincide with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s tour of Southeast Asian nations. The four-day trip, which takes in stops in Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Singapore is intended to help bolster regional ties amid growing pressure from Washington and continued fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
China’s Ministry of Commerce said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China have become each other’s largest trading partner, with total trade from January to August reaching $416.5 billion, according to Chinese state media.
But tensions between the bloc of Southeast Asian nations and China remain over aggressive moves by Beijing throughout the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, almost all of which is claimed by China.
In recent years, despite the objections of its neighbors and an international tribunal ruling,