KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — About 100 Chinese-registered boats have been detected encroaching in Malaysian waters near the Luconia Shoals in the South China Sea, a Malaysian minister said.

Shahidan Kassim, a minister in charge of national security, said the government has dispatched the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and the navy to the area to monitor the situation.

Shahidan was quoted by the national Bernama news agency on Friday as saying that legal enforcement action would be taken if the Chinese vessels are found to have entered Malaysia's exclusive economic zone.

Shahidan and other ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday that Chinese boats have a right to be in the waters.

"I want to point out that it is the fishing season in the South China Sea now, and according to usual practice, Chinese fishing vessels are fishing normally in the relevant waters at this time each year," Hong said.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have overlapping claims. Tensions have ramped up since China began a massive land reclamation program in 2013.

The strategically important area has some of the world's busiest sea lanes and is also rich in fisheries and may hold underground oil and natural gas reserves.

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Associated Press writer Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.