Gao Huayun had just arrived on the picturesque scuba diving resort in eastern Borneo when she was shoved into a boat by gunmen and taken to an unknown location.
Malaysian authorities believe Philippine gunmen kidnapped the 29-year-old woman from Shanghai along with a hotel employee in a raid in Malaysia's Sabah state on Wednesday night.
It was the latest attack on tourists in a region plagued by frequent kidnap-for-ransom raids.
Guests took cover behind upturned tables after gunmen stormed through the Singamata Reef Resort at around 10.30pm. The chaos and confusion is clear in photos shared by tourists as they crouched on the floor. Some pictures showed armed police officers in bulletproof vests securing the resort after the raid.
The incident could further complicate relations between China and Malaysia, which have been strained since the March 8 disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jet with 154 Chinese on board. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the attack might have been aimed at further damaging Sino-Malaysian ties. "Our priority is to ensure the safety of the hostages," he said.
Some 1.8 million Chinese visited Malaysia last year, a 15 per cent annual rise, making China the third-biggest source of visitors to Malaysia. The Singamata is a resort popular with mainland tourists. But it has cottages and restaurants on stilts over the water, making it hard to protect from seaborne attackers.
Liu Quan , the Chinese consul general in Kuching, spoke to Sabah's police chief and urged officers to carry out a speedy rescue, deputy consul general Liu Dongyuan said.
The Philippines said its maritime police unit and anti-kidnapping officers were working with their Malaysian counterparts.
The resort manager, who asked to be identified only as Vicky, said five or six armed men burst into the hotel. They left by boat within minutes. No shots were fired, one witness said.
The gunmen took Gao and 40-year-old Marcy Dayawan, a Filipino hotel employee. Gao was travelling with a friend, who left the resort early yesterday, the hotel manager said. Gao's parents reportedly told local Shanghai radio that a day before the raid their daughter had received an admission letter for an MBA degree programme in Britain.
It is the latest in a series of raids in Sabah. Last February over 100 armed Filipinos landed by boat and launched attacks on Malaysian forces, sparking a security crisis in the area close to the Singamata resort.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf gunmen from the Philippines crossed the border in speedboats and snatched 21 European tourists and Malaysian and Filipino workers from Malaysia's Sipadan diving resort. They were eventually released for large ransoms.