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Malaysia stresses military spending amid South China Sea dispute

By
Elizabeth Shim
Malaysia is one of several Southeast Asian nations prioritizing defense spending in response to Chinese military buildup in the South China Sea. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Malaysia is one of several Southeast Asian nations prioritizing defense spending in response to Chinese military buildup in the South China Sea. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 22 (UPI) -- Claimants in South China Sea territorial disputes are not standing down as Beijing rapidly militarizes islands in international waters.

Southeast Asian nations like Malaysia are modernizing their naval fleets as China's military buildup draws condemnations from non-claimants like the United States.

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Malaysian newspaper The Star and other local news sources reported Wednesday that Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government plans to allocate $5.87 billion toward strengthening national defense.

The Royal Malaysian Navy's modernization program, known as "15-to-5," will take top priority, according to news sources.

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The program includes plans for restructuring the deployment of 15 types of ships, including Malaysia's littoral combat ship, offshore patrol vessel, littoral mission vessel, multi-role support ship and five kinds of submarines.

The plan will also introduce 50 new vessels.

Najib said defense and security are vital to the defense of Malaysia's territory and sovereignty, while adding plans are under way to continuously increase Malaysia's defense spending.

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The Malaysian prime minister also emphasized the need to upgrade military equipment, although the country's defense budget is being reduced by 12.7 percent owing to an economic downturn.

But while Malaysia disputes China's exclusive claims to the Spratly and Paracel islands, the two countries have previously cooperated on naval vessels, including on Malaysian purchases of China-made littoral mission ships -- a contract between Kuala Lumpur's defense ministry and China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industrial for National Defense of China, signed in November 2016.

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Malaysia's neighbor Indonesia also has been steadily increasing defense spending.

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Jakarta plans to spend $20 billion in the next 10 years on arms procurement, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

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