Malaysia worries about China’s harassment of gas projects in the South China Sea

Foreign Minister Saifuddin predicted that China will send more ships into Malaysian waters when Petronas Group deploys a gas project in the South China Sea.

“As long as Petronas carries out operations in the Kasawari gas field, we will see Chinese ships going to that area more often,” Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on October 19.

Malaysia’s state-owned oil company Petronas is developing a gas project at the Kasawari field, which the country claims is within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), about 200 kilometers from the town of Bintulu in Sarawak state.

Petronas’ gas project has attracted the presence of Chinese coast guard vessels to the area off Sabah and Sarawak, especially the South Luconia Shoals.

“We have always protested. I can’t count the number of protest notes given to the Chinese side. We will be firm and respond diplomatically to them,” Saifuddin said.

The Kasawari field, discovered in November 2011, contains nearly 85 billion cubic meters of exploitable gas. The mine is expected to operate in 2023 with a capacity of up to 25 million cubic meters per day.

Kasawari gas field location.  Graphics: CSIS.

Kasawari gas field location. Graphics: CSIS.

Petronas Tengku CEO Muhammad Taufik Tengku Aziz said the Kasawari project will make the company one of the top five exporters of liquefied natural gas in the world.

In June, Malaysia summoned the Chinese ambassador Au Duong Ngoc Tinh after 16 Chinese military planes flew into the airspace of this Southeast Asian country, forcing them to send fighter jets to deal with it.

In July, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (ATMI), under the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), published a report showing that China sent coast guard vessels 5403 and 5303 to obstruct the vessel from laying pipelines. leased by Malaysia to operate near the Kasawari gas field.

Malaysia on October 4 continued to summon Ambassador Au Duong Ngoc Tinh for the operation of Chinese ships, including a survey ship, in the country’s EEZ in the waters off Sabah and Sarawak.

China unilaterally drew the so-called “nine-dash line” and claimed unreasonable sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, including the area that overlaps with the EEZ claimed by Malaysia. Collin Koh of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said China has been closely following the Kasawari project from the start.

KM Bagan Datuk patrol boat of the Malaysian Coast Guard.  Photo: Destini Group.

KM Bagan Datuk patrol boat of the Malaysian Coast Guard. Photo: Destini Group.

In April-May 2020, the West Capella probe chartered by Petronas was harassed by a Chinese coast guard vessel, drawing the attention of countries such as the US and Australia. The US and Australian navies then held joint exercises in the region, in what was seen as a show of force to China.

Koh said that China has the ability to strengthen monitoring of the Kasawari project, describing the constant presence of Chinese coast guard ships in the waters around the gas field as a move of “gunboat diplomacy”, aimed at causing damage to the sea. pressure on Malaysia or Petronas to stop the project.

Nguyen Tien (Follow SCMP)

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