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China offers rocket launchers, radar system to Malaysia: reports

[KUALA LUMPUR] China will offer Malaysia advanced rocket launchers and a radar system to be based on the southern tip of the South-east Asian country, media reports have said, in a move that could raise security concerns for Singapore.

The offer was to be made by a delegation of Chinese officials who visited Malaysia on Wednesday for the launch of a US$13-billion rail project being built by China, news portal the Malaysian Insight reported, quoting an unidentified source.

Up to 12 units of the AR3 multiple-launch artillery rocket system (MLRS) will be offered to Malaysia in a purchase programme with a loan period of 50 years, the source told the news website.

The size of the loan or the cost of the ordnance was not disclosed. The type of radar system was also not disclosed.

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The Straits Times also reported the offer, quoting a senior Malaysian government source on Thursday as saying that it was "lightly touched on" during talks between Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Chinese State Councillor Wang Yong at the ground-breaking ceremony for the rail project.

The Straits Times said a firm decision on the proposal would only be made during a planned visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Malaysia later this year.

Reuters could not verify the reports independently.

"This is the first time I'm hearing it," Malaysia's Treasury Secretary, General Mohammad Irwan Serigar Abdullah, said when asked by Reuters about the Chinese proposal.

China's Foreign Ministry referred questions to the Defence Ministry, which has yet respond to requests for comment.

Singapore's foreign affairs and defence ministries were also not immediately available for comment.

China has been upset with Singapore in recent months because of what China has viewed as undue interference by the city-state over the South China Sea dispute and Singapore's close defence ties with the United States and self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as a renegade province.

The AR3 artillery rocket system was built by China specifically for export. It first came into use in 2011 and is regarded as one of the most powerful MLRS units available.

Malaysia signed a deal to purchase four littoral mission ships from China last year.