China’s aggressive surveillance attempts on the Japanese coast ended in embarrassment as a Chinese WL-10 drone crashed in the sea

This image released by Japan's Joint Staff Office shows a Chinese WL-10 attack and reconnaissance drone operating in the East China Sea on May 27.

The Chinese government reported the loss of a suspected military drone and an engineering vessel in its coastal seas this month, around the time its armed forces held “punishment” drills around neighbouring Taiwan.

The maritime safety authority of China’s southern Guangdong province said on May 22 that a 13-foot environmental research drone “crashed into the sea.” It provided no other details beyond the aircraft’s estimated crash site and its purpose: “ocean surveying and geomagnetic measurements.”

It was not immediately clear which government agency or company owned the unmanned aerial vehicle, but coordinates given to passing vessels indicated it went down in the South China Sea.

Newsweek’s map places the crash site in the center of the Bashi Channel, part of the strategic Luzon Strait, where Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it had detected a Chinese military drone sortie on the same day the drone crashed.

There is a “very high probability” that the downed aircraft was a UAV in service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, said Su Tzu-yun, a senior analyst at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, Taiwan’s top military think tank.

The Bashi Channel crash site, roughly 69 nautical miles from Taiwan, matched the sea area where Taipei said an unspecified Chinese military drone had flown from 7:27-10:29 a.m. local time on May 22.

The aircraft came within 45 nautical miles of the island’s southern tip, the ministry said, in a sortie that reached the Philippine Sea in the Western Pacific.

“It was very likely a military drone used to harass Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, but packaged as ocean research,” Su told Newsweek.

An ADIZ, or air defense zone, is declared in international airspace outside a nation’s territorial airspace and is used as a buffer zone to identify civilian and military aircraft.

China claims Taiwan as its own despite Taipei’s repeated rejections. The long-ruling Communist Party in Beijing has never governed the democratic island.

According to the PLATracker website, which hosts a detailed database of Chinese pressure tactics against Taipei, it has flown nearly 5,500 sorties into Taiwan’s ADIZ since the fall of 2020.

Beijing sent 82 military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense zone during pointed war games from May 23-24, meant as a warning to Taiwan’s President Lai Ching-te, an outspoken China skeptic who wants to manage relations across the Taiwan Strait on Taipei’s terms.

This image released by Japan’s Joint Staff Office shows a Chinese WL-10 attack and reconnaissance drone operating in the East China Sea on May 27. Japan Joint Staff

China’s military has used the Bashi Channel for simulated strikes on U.S. Navy warships in the past. In wartime, the waterway would serve as a crucial outlet through the so-called first island chain.

Reached by Newsweek, a Taiwanese Defense Ministry spokesperson did not comment on the Chinese drone crash, saying only that the ministry was aware of all sea and air activity in Taiwan’s air defense zone.

China’s Defense Ministry, which typically declines to confirm or deny military accidents, did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment.

Also, last week, the Zhejiang Maritime Safety Agency in eastern China announced the sinking of the Lianhe Qirui off the Chinese coast. The 4,400-ton ship was used to supply offshore oil and gas platforms, and for salvage operations.

Built in 2002 and owned by Fujian United Marine Engineering, the wreck of the Lianhe Qirui has been pinging at the same location off the Chinese port city of Zhoushou since May 24, according to GPS data on ship-tracking service MarineTraffic.

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