(Kuala Lumpur) Malaysia is ready to hold negotiations with Beijing on the South China Sea to guarantee its hydrocarbon explorations in the disputed area, Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on Monday after returning from a visit to China. last week.

The prime minister of the Southeast Asian country says the “sensitive” issue was raised during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as Malaysia’s Petronas has the biggest rig in the disputed area and conducts several exploration projects.

“I stressed that as a small country, we need resources, such as oil and gas, and we need to pursue” exploration projects, the official said during a speech to the Prime Minister’s Office staff.

“But if the conditions are that there must be negotiations, then we are ready to negotiate.”

The Malaysian prime minister did not disclose his conversation with the Chinese leader in more detail.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, a strategic passageway for world trade, despite an international court ruling that these claims are not based on law.

Several neighboring countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam dispute Beijing’s wishes on what they consider to be their sovereign maritime zones.

China has built artificial islands in recent years and established military outposts on small islands and atolls in the region, sparking ire from several countries that have claims to waters near their territory.

Countries in the region have accused Chinese vessels of harassing their fishing boats and undermining their efforts to prospect for hydrocarbons at sea.

In 2021, Malaysia summoned the Chinese ambassador to the Southeast Asian country after incursions by Chinese ships into the disputed maritime area.

In June of the same year, it was the incursion of 16 Chinese military planes into the same area that angered Kuala Lumpur.