The differing narratives of Malaysia and China over a claimed territorial incursion by Chinese military jets should not be allowed to unsettle relations. Amicably resolving the disagreement would seem imperative at a time when geopolitical tensions are rising in East Asia. The United States and its allies plan to increase naval activity in the region, sailing warships through disputed waters and conducting exercises in a show of unity against Beijing’s perceived assertiveness. There is every need for calm, communication and mutual respect. What exactly occurred last Monday remains unclear. The Malaysian armed forces claim 16 Chinese military planes “intruded” into the country’s exclusive economic zone near the Kuala Lumpur-administered Luconia Shoals in the disputed South China Sea. They are then alleged to have moved about 60 nautical miles off the coast of Sarawak, where they failed to follow an order to contact air traffic controllers. The Chinese ambassador was summoned to explain the incident. Beijing rejected the account of events, a foreign ministry spokesman contending Chinese warplanes had been conducting routine training exercises as permitted under international law. The planes had not entered “the airspace of other countries”, instead being over sovereign waters south of the Nansha Islands, China’s name for the contested Spratly Islands. Apart from Malaysia, stakes in the area have also been made by Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam. China claims more than 80 per cent of the South China Sea in which it has constructed seven artificial islands, established a military presence and built three airstrips. Communication is essential when there are contested territorial claims such as those in the resource-rich South China Sea. While negotiations for fisheries and oil and gas exploration are under way, every effort must be made to maintain peace and stability. It is as much in the interests of China as other governments given the importance of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to the region’s growth and development. The hotline the Chinese and Vietnamese navy chiefs have agreed to set up to manage risks is in the right spirit. Making such an effort is even more critical given Washington’s rivalry with Beijing. The repeated sailing of American warships through the South China Sea in the name of protecting international shipping is being stepped up with allied navies from Britain, France and Germany following suit in coming months. Asian allies of the US face pressure to take a more vocal stand against Beijing, but that is challenging given the importance of Chinese trade and investment. Keeping the region peaceful must be in the interests of all concerned. Communication and cooperation are crucial.