Malaysia has reportedly been in secret talks about giving U.S. spy planes access to its runways, as Josh Rogin writes at BloombergView:
Following a series of incursions into Malaysian waters by Chinese vessels in recent months, talks between the U.S. government and the office of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak have intensified, two senior U.S. defense officials said. The U.S. side has been pressing Najib’s government to allow the U.S. Navy to fly both P-8 Poseidon and P-3 Orion maritime surveillance planes from Malaysian airstrips over South China Sea areas where the Chinese government has been rapidly building artificial islands.
There has been no final agreement between the two governments, but the talks themselves represent a shift of Malaysia’s long effort to straddle the fence between the U.S. and China.
China, the most obvious target for U.S. spy missions in Asia, is Malaysia’s biggest trading partner. Indeed, the big Malaysia–China news earlier this week had been about joint military exercises between the two countries. Yet as we’ve written before, though Asian states cannot avoid cooperating with Beijing on certain key issues, that doesn’t mean they are happy about China’s rise.
The more China asserts itself, the more concerned other Asian governments become, and the more likely they are to band together. In May, Malaysia and Japan upgraded their relationship from “bilateral ties” to “strategic partnership.” If Malaysia does enter into closer military ties with the United States, it would be another sign that China’s regional rivals are indeed looking to forming a net around it—though at the moment Beijing doesn’t seem terribly convinced that meaningful opposition to its rise exists.