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As Maritime Silk Road takes root, China docks submarine in Malaysia (hindu,)

It was the second confirmed port visit by a Chinese submarine, following a visit to Sri Lanka in 2014, the People’s Daily Online reported on Monday.

For the first time, a Chinese submarine has docked at a port in Malaysia, signaling deepening military ties between the two countries, which are already partners in the development of the Beijing- led Maritime Silk Road (MSR).

The four day stopover of the submarine from January 3 at the port of Kota Kinabalu, is being seen as a trigger for elevated tensions in the South China Sea (SCS). The Malaysian port has a naval base facing the SCS.

According to the information office of China’s Ministry of Defence, the submarine and support ship arrived at the port for “rest and recreation” after completing an escort mission to the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. It was the second confirmed port visit by a Chinese submarine, following a visit to Sri Lanka in 2014, the People’s Daily Online reported on Monday.

Analysts say that docking of Chinese submarine signals the emergence of special ties between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur. “Submarine port visits can only happen when mutual trust between two navies has reached new heights, as submarine operations are very secretive and sensitive,” the state-run China Daily quoted Zhong Feiteng, an expert on Asia-Pacific affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying.

The visit of the submarine is adding a prominent military dimension to China’s ties with Malaysia which is fast emerging as Beijing’s top partner, close to the Strait of Malacca, along the Maritime Silk Road (MSR). The MSR is part of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — a massive connectivity undertaking on land and sea, which covers 65 countries. “ I just came back from the investigation and study of the BRI in Malaysia. I found out that we have already established the China Malaysia port cooperation alliance, comprising of 11 Chinese and six Malaysian ports. Besides, the Strait of Malacca maritime

industrial park, among others, is also being set up,” said Liang Haiming, chief economist at the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute, in a conversation with The Hindu. He added: “From 2013 when it was proposed, the BRI is now developing very fast.”

The Malacca industrial park is part of the giant Malacca Gateway Project that China and Malaysia signed last year. It also includes the establishment of the strategically vital deep water port in the Strait

of Malacca in Malaysia. Three Chinese companies have been selected to help a Malaysian firm to set up the $1.9 billion port. Chinese companies, mostly from the coastal Guangdong province and their Malaysian counterparts are also planning to establish a bulk container terminal as well as a ship repair facility as part of the Malacca Gateway Project.

Chinese academics stress that international concerns about the docking of the submarines are overblown. “The port call adheres to common international practices, and western media shouldn’t read too much

into it.” Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the People’s Liberation Army Naval Military Studies Research Institute told China Daily.

He added that the Kota Kinabalu Port, on the southeastern part of the South China Sea, is a popular resupply spot for U.S. and Japanese submarines en route to the West Pacific.

“Naval relations between China and Malaysia have strengthened in the past few years. It’s natural that such port calls happen, and I believe more will happen,” he observed.

Yet, Chinese commentators also assert that in tune with its growing economy and increasing international profile, China’s blue water deployments should be accepted as the “new normal” within the rapidly evolving international system. Zhu Chenghu, a professor at the PLA National Defence University points out that besides the SCS, China also has a duty to protect important international routes as a “responsible player in global affairs”. He added that this includes sending submarines, which play an irreplaceable role in collecting intelligence and monitoring pirate routes.

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