Taiwan’s intelligence service confirmed Thursday that a Chinese military aircraft crashed in the South China Sea in early March before the area was sealed off for a search and rescue mission.
News of the crash was first reported on Twitter on March 6 by Vietnamese journalist Duan Dang, citing unnamed sources. The crash allegedly involved a Chinese Y-8 maritime patrol aircraft and occurred off the coast of Sanya, a city on China’s Hainan Island that lies parallel to northern Vietnam.
In a separate Twitter post, the reporter said China had used military drills to conceal search and rescue efforts between March 4 and 15 off the coast of Vietnam, again citing unnamed sources.
On Thursday, Chen Ming-tong, director of Taiwan’s National Security Bureau, confirmed the crash in a report to the Legislative Yuan’s National Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee. Shortly after the crash, Chen said the People’s Liberation Army imposed navigation restrictions in an area corresponding to the crash site and carried out search and rescue drills.
Beijing has yet to confirm the plane crash.
Chen said the crash was just one example of how China uses its coast guard and military to enforce its territorial claims to almost all of the South China Sea, although Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have claims.
Additionally, the South China Sea is a globally important shipping route, with one-third of global shipping passing through its waters, according to the United Nations.
Chen said China has been taking advantage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to further extend its claims over the South China Sea, as many countries like the United States are distracted by conflict.
China regularly sends aircraft over the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait in routine demonstrations of force. Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said that in 2021, China sent more than 1,000 aircraft into Taipei’s Air Defense Identification Zone — a wide area of land and sea that is monitored by its military and intelligence services.