by Yimou Lee (Reuters) China closed off a part of the South China Sea close to Vietnam this month in its hunt for a crashed aircraft, Taiwan’s intelligence agency said on Thursday, offering an alternate explanation for an exercise Beijing has called military drills.
Taiwan’s security bureau added that China was trying to “test the bottom line” of the other claimants and the United States while global attention is on the war in Ukraine.
On Friday, China said it was carrying out more than a week of exercises in the disputed South China Sea in an area between its southern province of Hainan and Vietnam, warning shipping to stay away.
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In a report to parliament, Taiwan’s National Security Bureau said a Chinese aircraft had crashed and China has declared the area off limits while its forces searched for it, and also to conduct drills.
The bureau’s director-general Chen Ming-tong told lawmakers he could not give any further details on the incident as it involves the source of their intelligence.
Taiwan is another claimant to the South China Sea and keeps a close watch on movements there. It controls Itu Aba island deep in the southern part of the waterway, and the Pratas Islands at its northern end.
China has not announced any military aircraft crashes in the area. Its defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry has complained to China about the drills.
China’s Foreign Ministry rejected that complaint, saying: “It is reasonable, lawful and irreproachable for China to conduct military exercises on its own doorstep.”
In 2014, tension between Vietnam and China rose to its highest levels in decades when a Chinese oil rig started drilling in Vietnamese waters. The incident triggered boat rammings by both sides and anti-China riots in Vietnam.
China routinely carries out military exercises in the South China Sea.
Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all also have competing claims.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Hanoi newsroom and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)
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