With China moving to control the reefs “James Shoal” and “Luconia Shoal” in the area administered by Malaysia, the diplomatic movements between France and Malaysia have accelerated. Chinese “fishermen” are regularly seen near the reefs, often in high numbers. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) transport aircraft have also been spotted near the reefs recently.
Malaysia's Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, initiated negotiations with Beijing in April to resolve territorial disputes. The stakes are high as Malaysia's need for oil and gas resources continues to grow, mandating continued exploration endeavors. The state-owned oil company, Petronas, operates a significant offshore platform in the disputed region.
French and Malaysian Relations
On the other hand, the connection between France and Malaysia has been historically robust. France perceives Malaysia as a significant partner in Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Economic and military connections enrich the relationship between the two nations.
Malaysia has purchased military equipment from France in the past, including two Scorpène submarines, H225M Caracal helicopters, and a Ground Master (GM) 400 radar system. The Malaysian Air Force also boasts possession of four A400M transport aircraft. Moreover, regular interactions transpire between the armed forces of the two nations, indicating a close bond.
Future Military Cooperation
Signs point to this military relationship strengthening further in the future. France's Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, met with his Malaysian counterpart, Mohamad Hasan, to discuss the current strategic context. Discussions focused on the urgency of maintaining peace, stability, and commerce in the South China Sea.
Promisingly, future cooperation plans will focus on defense industry sectors and involve operational aspects. There are plans to launch negotiations concerning a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) soon. Additional confirmation came from the Malaysian Ministry of Defense. It has placed an additional order for a GM 400 radar system from French company Thales. This system will monitor the airspace over Malaysia's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.