Members of the Royal Malaysian Navy's Naval Special Operations Units. Photo: AFP/Mohd Rasfan

The United States and Malaysian navies are conducting their 24th Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) bilateral exercise off Kota Kinabalu, the US Navy News Service reported on August 10.

The exercise, which the US conducts regularly with several members of ASEAN as well as Bangladesh, focuses on “the full spectrum of naval capabilities and is designed to strengthen the close partnership between the two navies while cooperatively ensuring maritime security, stability and prosperity,” according to the website. 

Major General Dato Zulkapri bin Rahamat of the Malaysian navy is quoted as saying that the aim of the exercise is to enhance interoperability as well as individual capacity to conduct amphibious operations at a tactical level … “so that we can plan and conduct operations in the region whenever something arises.”

What that “something” could be has not been made clear, but Malaysia is one of six countries that lay claim to islands in the South China Sea. The others are China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines – and Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian state of Sabah is close to some of the disputed area.

In June this year, prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said Malaysia wanted to continue occupying its islands in the South China Sea. He was then quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying that “China claims the South China Sea as theirs, but those islands have always been regarded as ours for a long time.”

China and the South China Sea were not mentioned in the Navy News Service’s dispatch, but Captain Lex Walker, the commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7, said the armed forces of Malaysia and the United States “have engaged and exercised with each other in increasingly complex and sophisticated scenarios.”

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