A Chinese military plane crashed in the South China Sea earlier this month, Taiwan’s intelligence agency said on Thursday, providing a possible explanation for China’s closure of part of the Gulf of Tonkin near the Hainan Island.
Chen Ming-tong, director general of the National Security Bureau, told parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs and National Defense that the accident prompted the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to set up a shipping exclusion zone in adjacent waters to carry out search and rescue operations, as well as military training.
Chen did not provide further details, citing sensitivities surrounding the source.
He warned, however, that as the world focuses on the war in Ukraine, China is using the situation to “test the limits of the United States and other South China Sea claimants.”
On March 4, the Hainan Maritime Security Administration issued a navigational warning banning ships from entering an area of the Gulf of Tonkin closed to military exercises until March 15.
Part of the area is in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry has protested, asking China to respect its EEZ and continental shelf.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded, claiming that “it is reasonable, legal and above reproach for China to conduct military exercises in front of its own doorstep”.
Vietnam and China reached an agreement to delimit their share of most of the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000 but their negotiation over the mouth of the Gulf has stalled.
China has not acknowledged any plane crashes recently and continues to conduct daily incursions into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone.
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