Malaysia has offered the use of a base in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo to the United States as a site for detachments of Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
A staging site in East Malaysia would enable the Navy’s maritime patrol aircraft easier access for operating over the South China Sea and shipping lanes such as the Strait of Malacca and the Sunda Strait, through which much of the world’s commerce passes.
Malaysia allowed Navy P-8A and P-3C aircraft to operate from West Malaysia during the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared on March 8. The Malaysian government expressed appreciation to the United States for its response.
The South China Sea has been a region of increased tensions in recent years because of competing claims over islands and shoals where mineral resources may exist and because of the Chinese naval build-up, particularly the submarine base on Hainan. There have been several incidents at sea involving Chinese coast guard ships and U.S. Navy warships and ocean surveillance ships and aircraft in international waters off China. The most recent involved a Chinese J-11 fighter flying dangerously close to a U.S. Navy P-8A over the South China Sea in late August.
Greenert stressed the “need to build a constructive relationship with China,” but said that the U.S. Navy would not be deterred from exercising international rights of navigation.
“I don’t think this air incident should define the relationship, but it should be noted,” he said. “There is a norm for aircraft entities to operate safely. We will continue to operate in international airspace.”
Greenert was addressing the importance of partnerships in keeping the sea lanes open and maintaining a strong defense posture in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We’ll be staying in the South China Sea and we’ll be staying in the East China Sea,” he said.
“Our [primary] focus in the region is on improved interoperability. We’ll remain a strong navy to our allies and partners.” (Seapower)