Malaysia has allowed the Chinese navy to use its Kota Kinabalu port, close to the Philippines and the Spratly Archipelago, in what analysts say is an effort not to take sides in the territorial disputes in the region. The agreement was made when Admiral Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy, visited Malaysia last week. Chinese ships would be able to use the port in Malaysian Borneo as a “stopover location”, reported US magazine the National Interest. Having ports as supply stops along significant routes has been a long-term plan for the Chinese navy, said Shanghai-based military analyst Ni Lexiong. The plan includes building its own naval bases, like China has been doing on the man-made islands in the Spratly and Paracel islands, as well as acquiring access to ports in other countries in strategic locations. One day after the Kota Kinabalu agreement, China also secured usage rights to land for state-owned China Overseas Port Holding Company at the port of Gwadar in Pakistan – situated at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, just outside the Strait of Hormuz. Read more: China’s navy has edge over US through sheer weight of numbers in dispute over South China Sea, say analysts In the South China Sea, Malaysia did not want to directly confront China, according to Hoo Tiang Boon of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. He said this was in contrast to the Philippines and Vietnam, which were strengthening ties with the United States in the face of China’s increased military presence. “The Malaysians are still relatively cautious about trying to confront the Chinese about this,” Hoo said. He added that some Malaysians were displeased about Chinese naval and coastguard vessels entering the waters near the disputed Luconia Shoal and James Shoal, and that fishermen were complaining about their Chinese competitors exploiting the region. Allowing the Chinese navy to dock and refill in Kota Kinabalu did not mean turning it into a base of the Chinese, he added. It was a gesture of neutrality, Hoo said, since the same port was already open to international powers such as the US and the French. Last month, US guided-missile destroyer Lassen stopped over at Kota Kinabalu after conducting a patrol less than 12 nautical miles from China’s man-made facilities on the Subi Reef, a move strongly protested by the Chinese side. Read more: Hague court claims jurisdiction over South China Sea dispute in defeat for Beijing Admiral Wu on Thursday told US Admiral Scott Swift that his forces had closely monitored the provocative US actions and had shown “enormous restraint”, while warning that they stood ready to respond to breaches of China’s sovereignty. From a Chinese perspective, being able to use the Kota Kinabalu port would certainly make the Americans unhappy, Ni said. Such cooperation would also show that China was able to peacefully interact in the South China Sea with countries in the disputed region, and was not bullying smaller nations, Ni added. “It is also good for the Malaysians. By demonstrating good relations with China, they will be more confident when dealing with the Filipinos and Vietnamese when it comes to their respective disputes with each other,” he said. The Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei also have overlapping claims in the region.