TAIPEI (REUTERS) – China sealed off part of the South China Sea near Vietnam this month in its hunt for a crashed plane, the Taiwanese intelligence agency said on Thursday (March 10th), offering another explanation to an exercise that Beijing has called military drills.
Last Friday, China said it was carrying out more than a week of drills in the disputed South China Sea in an area between its southern province of Hainan and Vietnam, warning ships to stay away.
In a report to parliament, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau said a Chinese plane crashed and China declared the area off-limits while its forces search for it, and also to conduct drills.
The bureau’s general manager, Chen Ming-tong, told lawmakers he couldn’t give more details about the incident because it implicated the source of their intelligence.
Taiwan is another contender for the South China Sea and is watching movements there closely. It controls the island of Itu Aba at the bottom of the southern part of the waterway and the Pratas Islands at its northern end.
China has not announced any military aircraft crashes in the region. His Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry has complained to China about the drills.
China’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the complaint, saying, “It is reasonable, legal and beyond reproach for China to conduct military exercises in front of its own doorstep.”
Taiwan’s security office added that China is trying to “test the results” of other claimants and the United States as global attention shifts to the war in Ukraine.
In 2014, tension between Vietnam and China reached its highest level in decades when a Chinese oil rig began drilling in Vietnamese waters. The incident sparked boat rammings on both sides and anti-China riots in Vietnam.
China regularly conducts military exercises in the South China Sea.
Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei also have competing claims.