US says Malaysia offers to host Malaysia

A US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft takes off from Australia

A US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft takes off from Australia’s Perth International Airport on April 16.
A top US Navy officer says Malaysia has offered to let the US use one of its airbases to fly military spy planes over the South China Sea, a move that will likely increase frictions with Beijing.

The Malaysian government recently asked the US to operate the P-8 Poseidon aircraft from the country’s most eastern area, giving the Americans greater proximity to the South China Sea, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the US Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), said in Washington on Monday.

Discussions between Malaysia and the United States for the use of the Sabah air base in northeast Malaysia have been going on for some time, according to a senior Asian diplomat who declined to be named.

The air base is located on the southern rim of the South China Sea.

Analysts say the move seems likely to intensify China’s anger at American surveillance of the strategic waterway and its disputed islands.

Navy Captain Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for Greenert, clarified on Friday that no P-8 Poseidon flights from Malaysia have been approved yet.

“The CNO did not talk about approving flights. What he was discussing was nurturing future opportunities, like responding to emerging issues in the region, which was done with MH370 search operations,” Hernandez told Reuters.

The Malaysian government has not confirmed whether it made the offer.

Malaysia allowed the US Navy to operate P-8 and P-3 surveillance aircraft from the country during the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said China would interpret an agreement between the US and Malaysia as a direct challenge to Beijing’s insistence that the American spy flights were an infringement of China’s sovereignty.

China, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, has increasingly contested the right of the United States to conduct surveillance flights over what it says are China’s territorial waters.

The US “pivot” or rebalance of resources to the Asia-Pacific region has raised China’s concerns that Washington is trying to contain its economic and military growth.

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