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The Philippines and US Navy are conducting joint patrols in the South China Sea, US officials announce.

The US rarely conducts joint patrols with its partners in the region.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the US would also increase rotations of its forces and military support in the Philippines.


Tensions have escalated in the South China Sea in recent years, with China steadily expanding its military presence in the region.

The joint naval patrols, which began last month, “contribute to the safety and security of the region’s waters,” Ash Carter told reporters after a meeting with Philippines President Benigno Aquino.US Navy Philippines

US troops and combat aircraft are currently participating in joint combat exercises with Philippines forces.

The announcement comes just days after a Philippine diplomat asked the US to help persuade China not to build on a South China Sea shoal important to Filipino fishermen.

The US has expanded its support for allies in the South Pacific in recent months, following China’s military build up – which includes construction of islands with airstrips.

China, which claims a wide swathe of the sea, has been reclaiming land around reefs.

The US and other countries have called for the halt of such activities, accusing it of militarization, but China has insisted that the construction is for civilian purposes.

Last week, US military officials announced they would send $40 million in military assistance to the Philippines to increase intelligence sharing, surveillance and naval patrols.

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China is accused by Vietnam of violating its sovereignty by landing a plane on an artificial island built in a contested part of the South China Sea.

According to the Vietnamese foreign ministry, the airfield was built illegally on a part of the Spratly archipelago that lies within its territory.

China said it has complete sovereignty over Fiery Cross Reef and had used a civilian plane to test the airstrip.

Several nations dispute China’s territorial claims in the area.

China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, resulting in overlapping claims with several other Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.

They accuse China of illegally reclaiming land in contested areas to create artificial islands with facilities that could potentially be for military use.China Spratlys plane landing

The US has said it was concerned that January 3 flight had exacerbated tensions.

Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, said there was “a pressing need for claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features”.

“We encourage all claimants to actively reduce tensions from unilateral actions that undermine regional stability, and taking steps to create space for meaningful diplomatic solutions to emerge,” Pooja Jhunjhunwala said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China conducted the flight to test whether the airfield facilities met the standards for civil aviation.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. China will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side,” Hua Chunying said, referring to the Spratly Islands by their Chinese name.

Hanoi’s foreign ministry said Vietnam handed a protest note to China’s embassy and asked China not to repeat the action, Reuters reported.

It called the flight “a serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam on the Spratly archipelago”.

Satellite images published in April 2015 showed China making progress with building the airstrip on reclaimed land on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.

The landmass could accommodate a runway about 3,000m long.

It also showed dredging to the south of the reef, in apparent work to improve the reef’s port facilities.

China says its work is legal and needed to safeguard its sovereignty.

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China’s foreign ministry has summoned the US charge d’affaires Kaye Lee in protest after Washington announced it would sell two warships to Taiwan.

Vice-Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang made “solemn representations” with Kaye Lee, the US charge d’affaires, the ministry said.

The arms deal, worth $1.83 billion, comes as tensions rise over China’s island-building in the South China Sea.

Taiwan expressed gratitude to Washington for helping with its defense needs.

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province which will one day be reunited with the mainland, though relations have warmed in recent weeks.

Leaders from both countries met last month for the first time since the 1949 civil war.US and Taiwan warship deal 2015

China maintains a right to use force if Taiwan attempts to gain independence.

The Chinese statement said Zheng Zenguang had told Kaye Lee at the December 16 meeting that Taiwan “is an inalienable part of China’s territory” and that it “strongly opposes the US arms sale”.

It added that the deal had “severely damaged China’s sovereignty and security interest”, and pledged to sanction the US companies involved in it.

The US said the deal, the first in four years, was consistent with its “long-standing policy on arms sales to Taiwan”.

Relations between the US and China are frayed over China’s construction of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea.

Two decommissioned US Navy frigates, anti-tank missiles, amphibious assault vehicles, as well as surface-to-air missiles and other equipment are all included in the deal.

It will be approved in 30 days, unless Congress objects. That is thought unlikely, as there has been growing concern in the US about Taiwan’s ability to defend itself from China’s military might.

State department spokesman John Kirby said the sale was consistent with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the US to provide Taiwan with sufficient weaponry to defend itself, even though the US does not recognize Taiwan as a state independent of China.

The move did not need to have a negative effect on US-Chinese relations, John Kirby said, adding: “We still want to work to establish a better, more transparent, more effective relationship with China in the region.”

China is sending five ships to evacuate its workers from Vietnam following a wave of anti-Chinese riots.

The Chinese government has already evacuated more than 3,000 people, Chinese state-run media report.

The first ship set sail on Sunday, while 16 critically injured Chinese nationals left Vietnam on a chartered flight, Xinhua news agency said.

Two Chinese workers have been killed and dozens more injured in unrest over a Chinese oil rig in disputed waters.

More than 3,000 Chinese workers have been evacuated from Vietnam

More than 3,000 Chinese workers have been evacuated from Vietnam (photo Reuters)

On Saturday the Vietnamese government called for an end to the protests.

Officials said “illegal acts” would be stopped as they could damage national stability.

However, dissident groups have urged people to rally again in major cities on Sunday and the authorities broke up some anti-China protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

In recent days crowds have set fire to at least 15 foreign-owned factories – including Chinese, Taiwanese and South Korean businesses – in several Vietnamese industrial parks.

Correspondents say the attacks appear to have worried authorities, as Hanoi depends heavily on foreign investment for economic growth.

However, China has urged authorities to take tougher measures to punish rioters.

“We are strongly dissatisfied by the Vietnamese side failure to respond effectively to curb an escalation,” Xinhua quoted security chief Guo Shengkun as saying on Saturday.

The protests have been triggered by China’s decision to move its Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig into contested waters in the South China Sea.

This led to confrontations between Vietnamese and Chinese ships earlier this month, as Vietnam sought to block the move.

China insists it will continue drilling in the area, west of the Paracel Islands – which are controlled by China but also claimed by Vietnam, and Taiwan.

Nationalist sentiment is currently running very high in Vietnam over the issue, correspondents say.

One Chinese worker is dead and at least 90 other people injured after protesters attacked a steel mill in Vietnam, amid anti-China tensions over the South China Sea dispute.

The incident took place at a Taiwanese-owned mill in Ha Tinh province.

It came a day after protesters burnt several foreign-owned factories at an industrial park.

The demonstrations have been sparked by China’s movement of a drilling rig into waters also claimed by Vietnam.

Nationalist sentiment in Vietnam is currently running very high over the South China Sea dispute

Nationalist sentiment in Vietnam is currently running very high over the South China Sea dispute (photo AFP/Getty Images)

Several anti-China protests have since taken place in Vietnam. Nationalist sentiment is currently running very high over the issue, correspondents say.

Protesters appear to have targeted businesses with Chinese characters in their signs, even if they are from other countries such as Taiwan.

The Chinese embassy in Vietnam on Thursday urged Chinese nationals to take precautions, in the second such statement in as many days.

“We once again remind all Chinese in Vietnam to take safety precautions, increase self-protection, and avoid leaving home unnecessarily,” said the statement posted on the embassy’s website.

It said that “Chinese businesses and workers have been the targets of violence” in at least seven cities or provinces across Vietnam. The embassy said it had asked Vietnamese authorities to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens.

On Tuesday, at least 15 foreign-owned factories were set on fire at industrial parks in Binh Duong province, and hundreds more attacked. No casualties were reported.

Some Taiwanese have begun leaving the country.

The latest incident happened overnight at a huge steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics Group.

Taiwan’s envoy in Vietnam said one Chinese worker was killed and 90 other people injured.

A local police official also confirmed this account.

“One Chinese worker is dead. We are trying to identify the body,” he told AFP news agency.

In a statement quoted by Reuters news agency, the company said its Vietnamese and Taiwanese workers were not attacked.

Taiwan’s envoy told AFP news agency that rioters forced Chinese workers into a corner of the factory. “The rioters have gone but we are all still concerned they might come back,” he said.

Doctors at Ha Tinh General Hospital told agencies several Chinese patients were being treated for injuries.

On Wednesday, Vietnamese authorities said at least 200 people had been arrested over the violence at the industrial park in Binh Duong.

China’s tourism body has urged its nationals to “carefully consider” any travel to Vietnam.

China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig was brought into waters west of the disputed Paracel Islands earlier this month, leading to collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese ships as Vietnam sought to block the move.

China claims a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea, including several areas that its South East Asian neighbors say belong to them.

In recent years it has started to enforce these claims more assertively, leading to severely strained ties with the Philippines and Vietnam in particular.

The Philippines is currently taking China to a UN court to try to resolve the issue.

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Anti-China protesters have set on fire several factories at an industrial park in southern Vietnam, amid tensions over the South China Sea.

The park’s management said three factories were set on fire on Tuesday, but other reports put the figure as high as 15.

No casualties have been reported but officials said many arrests were made.

Anti-China protesters have set on fire several factories at Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park

Anti-China protesters have set on fire several factories at Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (photo Reuters)

The protests came after China moved a drilling rig into waters claimed by Vietnam earlier this month.

In a daily press briefing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Vietnam was a “provocateur” and that Beijing had expressed concern to Hanoi.

The management of the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) said that protestors gathered on Monday in Thuan An town, in the southern Binh Duong province.

On Tuesday they moved on to VSIP’s two industrial parks nearby and targeted factories owned or managed by the Chinese and Chinese expatriates.

Not all of the tenants of the three factories were Chinese companies. Some Taiwanese companies had been affected.

Other reports suggested the violence was more widespread, with more factories targeted.

A local official estimated that around 19,000 workers took part in the protest and that at least 15 factories were set on fire, according to local media.

One photo carried by Vietnamese media showed a factory had draped a South Korean flag at its entrance in a bid to stave off attacks.

Another eight were partially damaged, and had shattered windows and smashed front gates. These included buildings belonging to a Taiwan-founded shoe company.

The protest has spooked some foreign companies. Reuters reported that Hong Kong-listed sports shoe maker Yue Yuen, which supplies footwear to Adidas, Nike and other international brands, had suspended production in Vietnam.

Earlier this month, China moved its Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig to a spot 120 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam.

The area is near the Paracel Islands, over which China and Vietnam have contesting claims.

The move sparked bitter protest from the Vietnamese government, which demanded an immediate pull-out.

Last week, several collisions were reported between ships from the two countries as Vietnam sought to block the installation of the rig.

Ships have also been exchanging water cannon fire and dozens of vessels are reported to be in the area.

Protests have been staged in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City over the past week. Vietnamese activists marched to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi on Sunday and again on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the US warned China that its actions were “provocative”.

Beijing claims a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea that covers areas other South East Asian nations say are their territory.

The issue has been rumbling in recent years amid an increasingly assertive stance from China over its claims.

The Philippines on Wednesday accused China of reclaiming land on a disputed South China Sea reef in order to build a new facility – possibly an airstrip or a military base.

Manila lodged a protest last month after images taken from the air showed China had been moving materials into Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, officials said.

Ties between Beijing and Manila have deteriorated severely in recent months because of the territorial row.

Manila is taking Beijing to an international court over the issue. It also recently signed a security deal with the US allowing more troops onto its soil, in a move seen as reflecting the difficult ties with China.

A Chinese navy vessel harasses a Philippine supply boat off a disputed South China Sea island, in a spat witnessed by Western journalists on board.

Journalists on board of the Philippine ship have witnessed Chinese coast guard vessels trying to block access to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea.

One of the Chinese ships radioed to demand the crew turn around, or “take full responsibility” for their actions.

But the Philippine boat, ferrying food to troops stationed on the Second Thomas Shoal, managed to slip past.

The shoal is one of many flashpoints in the area, where several countries have overlapping territorial claims.

China claims a U-shaped swathe of the sea – creating multiple overlaps with areas claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Saturday’s incident, which took place at Second Thomas Shoal (known as Ayungin in Manila and Ren’ai Reef in Beijing), is a rare glimpse into the tensions that routinely play out in the disputed waters.

Journalists on board of the Philippine ship have witnessed Chinese coast guard vessels trying to block access to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea

Journalists on board of the Philippine ship have witnessed Chinese coast guard vessels trying to block access to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea

Journalists say they saw two Chinese coast guard ships attempt to block the path of the Philippine boat, sending a radio message, in English, warning that it was entering Chinese territory: “We order you to stop immediately, stop all illegal activities and leave.”

But instead of leaving, the Philippine boat managed to manoeuvre away and enter waters that were too shallow for the Chinese ships to follow.

The captain of the Philippine vessel, Ferdinand Gato, later told Reuters news agency that if they had not changed direction, they would have collided with one of the Chinese vessels.

Philippine troops are stationed on a beached, rusting military ship on the shoal that analysts say has become a symbol of the country marking its territory.

Two weeks ago, Manila made a formal complaint to Beijing after a similar incident when Chinese vessels succeeded in blocking a resupply mission to the shoal.

Philippine planes resorted to air-dropping food and water supplies for the soldiers stationed on board the marooned ship.

The latest confrontation was witnessed by more than a dozen journalists.

They had been invited by the Philippine military to board the government vessel to show alleged bullying by Chinese vessels in the area.

The Chinese foreign ministry condemned the Philippines for trying to “hype up” the issue, according to a statement quoted by Xinhua news agency.

The ministry accused Manila of trying to “illegally seize” the shoal.

The incident comes a day before the Philippines is due to file a case against China with the UN tribunal in The Hague, challenging its territorial claim to most of the South China Sea.

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Malaysian authorities have been urged by China to “step up its efforts” in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared on Saturday.

Most of the passengers on board of flight MH370 were Chinese nationals.

Nearly three days after the aircraft went missing, an international effort has still not found the plane’s wreckage.

None of the debris and oil slicks spotted in the water so far have proven to be linked to the disappearance.

Flight MH370 vanished from radar almost three days ago en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, with 239 people on board.

Relatives of the missing passengers have been told to prepare for the worst.

China said the Malaysian authorities needed to “step up their efforts” to find the missing airliner, which had more than 150 Chinese nationals on board.

“We … have a responsibility to demand and urge the Malaysian side to step i[ search efforts, start an investigation as soon as possible and provide relevant information to China correctly and in a timely manner,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

Earlier, the Global Times, a prominent Communist Party newspaper, issued a sharply worded editorial arguing there were “loopholes” in the work of Malaysian airlines and security authorities, noting that “until yesterday [Sunday], the Malaysian government could not even ensure accurate information about the [plane’s] passengers”.

The Malaysian authorities are attempting to address Chinese concerns – they have reissued a pledge to fly worried family members to Kuala Lumpur so they can be closer to the search efforts, our correspondent adds.

But one victim’s relative – Guo Qishun, whose son-in-law was on the plane – said he did not see the point of flying to Malaysia.

“We don’t want to go to Malaysia now. There is no result from the search operation yet. If we go to Malaysia, we can do nothing but wait, just like what we are doing in Beijing now. If we go to Malaysia, who can we rely on? Most of us don’t speak English,” he told the Associated Press news agency.

Malaysian authorities have identified one of the two men travelling on the missing plane on stolen passports.

Flight MH370 vanished from radar almost three days ago en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur

Flight MH370 vanished from radar almost three days ago en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said they could not reveal his identity, but confirmed the man was a non-Malaysian.

Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, said all of the relevant information concerning those two passengers had now been passed on to the various national intelligence agencies which were investigating the matter.

International police agency Interpol has confirmed the passengers were travelling with Italian and Austrian passports stolen in Thailand years ago.

The search area has been widened to include waters in the Strait of Malacca.

Commander William Marks from the US Seventh Fleet, which is taking part in the search, says he expects the plane’s flight recorders to be floating in the water.

“In calm seas, if there were a soccer ball [football] or a basketball floating in the water, the radar could pick it up. They [flight recorders] typically have a radio beacon and so for example our P3 [radar] – if they are flying within a certain range of that – will pick up that radio beacon. We have not yet picked up anything, but that’s typically what those black boxes contain.”

There are now 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine different nations taking part in the search in the seas off Vietnam and Malaysia.

US Navy officials earlier said their aircraft had not seen any debris associated with commercial aircraft wreckage.

Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 00:41 local time on Saturday. But radio contact was lost at 01:30, somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Officials say they still have no idea what went wrong.

Malaysian military officials said on Sunday they were widening the search area because of indications the plane, a Boeing 777-200ER, may have turned back from its scheduled route shortly before vanishing from radar screens.

Investigators are looking at all angles, including a possible terror attack. Counter-terrorism agencies and the FBI are involved in the operation.

Five passengers booked on the flight did not board, and their luggage was consequently removed.

The passengers on the flight were of 14 different nationalities. Two-thirds were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

Malaysia Airlines is the country’s national carrier, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.

On Monday, shares in Malaysia Airlines fell 18% to a record low.

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One of the most alarming pieces of information to come out of Malaysia Airlines plane mystery is how easy it may be to use a stolen passport to board an international flight.

Two passengers using passports on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight were recorded in Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database, the international police organization confirmed on Sunday.

Vietnam’s navy planes have spotted possible debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared almost two days ago.

Officials said it was too dark to be certain the objects were from Flight MH370, which had 239 people on board.

A multinational team is searching for wreckage and ships will try to confirm the find after dawn.

Investigators are also checking CCTV footage of two passengers who were travelling on stolen passports.

There are now 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine different nations taking part in the search for the missing plane in the seas off Vietnam and Malaysia.

Other teams are investigating the identities of some of the people onboard.

Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said five passengers booked on the flight did not board and their luggage was consequently removed.

It has also been confirmed that two passengers were travelling on stolen passports.

The passengers – travelling with Italian and Austrian passports that had been stolen in Thailand – purchased their plane tickets at the same time, and were both booked on the same onward flight from Beijing to Europe on Saturday.

Luigi Maraldi’s passport went missing in Thailand last year and was reported shortly thereafter

Luigi Maraldi’s passport went missing in Thailand last year and was reported shortly thereafter (photo EPA)

Both had purchased their tickets from China Southern Airlines, which shared the flight with Malaysia Airlines, and they had consecutive ticket numbers.

Both tickets were bought at identical prices in Thai currency, according to China’s official e-ticket verification system.

European authorities on Saturday confirmed the names and nationalities of the two stolen passports: One was an Italian-issued document bearing the name Luigi Maraldi, the other Austrian under the name Christian Kozel.

A telephone operator on a China-based KLM hotline on Sunday confirmed to Reuters “Luigi Maraldi” and “Christian Kozel” were both booked to leave Beijing on a KLM flight to Amsterdam on March 8.

“Luigi Maraldi” was then to fly to Copenhagen on KLM on March 8, and “Christian Kozel” to Frankfurt on March 8. She said the pair booked the tickets through China Southern Airlines so she had no information on where they bought them.

“Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol databases,” the Secretary General of international police agency Interpol, Ronald Noble, said in a statement.

Ronald Noble said no checks of Interpol’s database had been made for either passport between the time they were stolen and the departure of the flight, and expressed frustration that few of Interpol’s 190 member countries “systematically” search the database.

Given their travel itinerary, it’s just as possible that the misidentified flyers were drug mules as terrorists.

The passport of the Italian man was stolen last year. Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss said the passport of the Austrian man was stolen two years ago. Both documents went missing in Thailand and were reported shortly thereafter, according to Interpol.

Passports reported lost or stolen are invalidated and, technically, can no longer be used for travel – yet individuals, including members of terrorist organizations, still manage to get across international borders with falsified travel documents.

Such documents are often obtained on the black market and put to use after a photograph swap. Investigations into the operations of terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda showed that operatives traveled with falsified travel documents.

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said all angles were being examined in the search for the what happened, but he added: “The main thing here for me and for the families concerned is that we find the aircraft.”

The passengers on the flight were of 14 different nationalities. Two-thirds were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

Malaysia Airlines is the country’s national carrier, and one of Asia’s largest fleets, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.

Correspondents say the route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing has become more and more popular as Malaysia and China increase trade.

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According to new reports, Vietnamese navy planes have spotted possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared almost two days ago.

Officials said it was too dark to be certain the objects were from Flight MH370, which had 239 people on board.

A multinational team is searching for wreckage and ships will try to confirm the find after dawn.

Investigators are also checking CCTV footage of two passengers who were travelling on stolen passports.

Malaysian military officials said on Sunday that the plane may have turned back from its scheduled route shortly before vanishing from radar screens, further deepening the mystery surrounding its fate.

Relatives of the missing passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight have been told to prepare for the worst

Relatives of the missing passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight have been told to prepare for the worst

Relatives of the missing passengers have been told to prepare for the worst.

Flight MH730 left Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, at 00:41 local time on Saturday. But radio contact was lost at 01:30, somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Late on Sunday, the Vietnamese authorities said possible debris from the plane had been spotted in the sea off south Vietnam.

“We received information from a Vietnamese plane saying that they found two broken objects, which seem like those of an aircraft, located about 50 miles to the south-west of Tho Chu Island,” an unnamed official from the National Committee for Search and Rescue told AFP news agency.

“As it is night they cannot fish them out for proper identification. They have located the position of the areas and flown back to the land,” he added.

The potential debris was in a similar area to a possible oil slick seen by Vietnamese navy planes on Saturday, but officials have cautioned that this too may be nothing to do with the disappearance of Flight MH370.

There are now 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine different nations taking part in the search for the missing plane in the seas off Vietnam and Malaysia.

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Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than 24 hours may have turned back, radar signals showed.

Rescue teams looking for the plane have now widened their search area.

Investigators are also checking CCTV footage of two passengers who are believed to have boarded the plane using stolen passports.

Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared south of Vietnam with 239 people on board.

Air and sea rescue teams have been searching an area of the South China Sea south of Vietnam for more than 24 hours.

Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur the search area had been expanded, to include the west coast of Malaysia.

Five passengers booked on the flight did not board, he added. Their luggage was consequently removed.

Twenty-two aircraft and 40 ships are now involved in the search, armed forces chief Gen. Zulkefli Zin said.

Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than 24 hours may have turned back, radar signals showed

Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than 24 hours may have turned back, radar signals showed

Air force chief Rodzali Daud said the investigation was now focusing on a recording of radar signals that showed there was a “possibility” the aircraft had turned back from its flight path.

Vietnamese navy ships which reached two oil slicks spotted earlier in the South China Sea found no signs of wreckage.

Malaysia’s Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, initially said at least four names on the passenger list were “suspect”.

However, he later said there were in fact only two suspect names.

Reports suggest two of the passengers listed as travelling – an Italian and an Austrian – were not actually on the flight.

They had both reportedly had their passports stolen in Thailand in recent years.

Hishammuddin Hussein said international agencies including the FBI had joined the investigation and all angles were being examined.

The passengers on the flight were of 14 different nationalities. Two-thirds were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

When he was asked earlier whether terrorism was suspected as a reason for the plane’s disappearance, Malaysian PM Najib Razak said: “We are looking at all possibilities but it is too early to make any conclusive remarks.”

Malaysia Airlines plane vanished at 01:30 local time on Saturday, March 8.

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According to new reports, US officials are investigating terrorism concerns after revelations that two people apparently boarded the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner with stolen passports.

The officials told NBC News that they had found no clear link to terrorism. There are other criminal reasons, for example drug smuggling, that stolen passports might be used to board a plane.

Two names on the passenger manifest of the plane, Malaysia Flight 370, matched passports reported stolen in Thailand, one from an Italian man and the other from an Austrian man, according to foreign governments.

The news, hours after the Malaysia Airlines jet disappeared over the South China Sea with 239 people on board, significantly changed how US officials looked at the disaster. The officials said they were checking into passenger manifests and going back through intelligence.

There was still no sign of wreckage more than 24 hours after air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane, a red-eye from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.

The aircraft vanished in relatively clear weather, without sending a distress signal, at what analysts said would have been cruising altitude. In a possible clue, Vietnamese planes spotted two oil slicks consistent with jet fuel in the water off Vietnam.

Malaysia Airlines asked the world to pray for flight MH370 missing over South China Sea

Malaysia Airlines asked the world to pray for flight MH370 missing over South China Sea

On board were 227 passengers and 12 crew. Most of the passengers were Chinese. Three were Americans – one adult and two children, according to the passenger manifest.

Search teams from Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and China were looking for wreckage, and the US sent a naval destroyer into the South China Sea to help. The air search was called off during the night but was to resume at daylight Sunday, or early Saturday evening Eastern time.

The Italian on the passenger list was Luigi Maraldi, 37. His father, Walter Maraldi, told NBC News on Saturday that Luigi was vacationing in Thailand and had called to check in.

Walter Maraldi said his son had his passport stolen a year ago in Thailand.

In Austria, the foreign ministry confirmed that police had made contact with a citizen who was also on the passenger list, and who reported his passport stolen two years ago.

“We believe that the name and passport were used by an unidentified person to board the plane,” a spokesman for the ministry said.

It is unusual, but not unheard of, for one person to board a plane with a stolen passport. It is very rare for two people with stolen passports to board the same plane, terrorism analysts say.

Asked earlier whether terrorism was suspected in the disappearance of the jet, Malaysian PM Najib Razak said authorities were “looking at all possibilities,” The Associated Press reported.

Malaysia has not seen significant terrorist activity, and airport security there has tended to be exemplary.

The investigation will probably take some time, partly because authorities would have to find wreckage and perform forensics tests. In the crash of TWA Flight 800, in 1996, it took more than a year to rule out terrorism.

While flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders, the so-called black boxes, can emit signals from underwater, it can be extremely difficult to find planes that disappear over the sea.

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South-East Asian states have joined forces to search the South China Sea for the Malaysia Airlines jet missing with 239 people on board.

Flight MH370 vanished at 02:40 local time Saturday after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

The aerial search has been halted for the night but sea operations continue.

No wreckage has been reported by the airline, but Vietnamese planes reported seeing oil slicks in the sea.

The Vietnamese government said two slicks, about 9 miles long, were consistent with those that could be left by an airliner and had been detected off southern Vietnam.

However, there is no confirmation the slicks relate to the missing plane.

Distraught relatives and loved ones of those aboard are being given assistance at the airports.

Distraught relatives and loved ones of those on board of Malaysia Airlines jet are being given assistance at the airports

Distraught relatives and loved ones of those on board of Malaysia Airlines jet are being given assistance at the airports

“We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane,” Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the focus was on helping the families of those missing. He said that 80% of the families had been contacted.

The plane reportedly went off the radar south of Vietnam.

Its last known location was off the Ca Mau peninsula although the exact position was not clear.

The Boeing B777-200 aircraft was carrying 227 passengers, including two children, and 12 crew members.

Malaysia’s military said a second wave of helicopters and ships had been dispatched after an initial search revealed nothing. The US has agreed to help with its aircraft too, Malaysian PM Najb Razak said.

Territorial disputes over the South China Sea were set aside temporarily as China dispatched two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three air force planes and three navy patrol ships.

Singapore is also involved, while Vietnam sent aircraft and ships and asked fishermen in the area to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.

“In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues,” said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military’s Western Command.

The passengers were of 14 different nationalities. Among them were 152 Chinese nationals, 38 Malaysians, 12 people from Indonesia and six from Australia.

The pilot was Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981.

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China has confirmed that one of its warships “encountered” a US vessel.

The US reported a near-collision in the South China Sea earlier this month.

The US said its guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens was forced to take evasive action as the two ships neared each other on December 5.

It has been described as the most serious Sino-US confrontation in the South China Sea since 2009.

China has confirmed that one of its warships "encountered" a US vessel

China has confirmed that one of its warships “encountered” a US vessel

However, China said the incident was handled with “strict protocol”.

The US has said its ship was operating in international waters.

However, China claims parts of the South China Sea, and a state-run newspaper quoted an expert as saying that the US boat had been “harassing” China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as it carried out drills.

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Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe has described China’s move to create a new “air defense identification zone” over disputed waters as “dangerous”.

China’s action had “no validity whatsoever on Japan”, Shinzo Abe added.

China has voiced anger at Japanese and US objections to the new air zone, and lodged complaints with their embassies.

The zone covers disputed islands that are claimed and controlled by Japan. China says aircraft entering the zone must obey its rules.

Shinzo Abe told parliament on Monday that the zone “can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well”.

“We demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace,” he added.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called the move a “destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region”.

“This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations,” Chuck Hagel said in a statement.

“This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region,” he added.

Japan described China’s move as an “escalation” on Saturday, after China announced the new zone.

On Sunday, Yang Yujun, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense, said Japan’s reaction was “absolutely groundless and unacceptable”.

The disputed islands in the East China Sea have been a source of tension between China and Japan for decades

The disputed islands in the East China Sea have been a source of tension between China and Japan for decades

“We strongly require the Japanese side to stop all moves that undermine China’s territorial sovereignty as well as irresponsible remarks that misguide international opinions and create regional tensions,” Yang Yujun said.

He also demanded that the US “earnestly respect China’s national security [and] stop making irresponsible remarks for China’s setup of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone”.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it found it “regretful” that China’s new zone partly overlapped with its own military air zone, and covered Ieodo, a submerged rock claimed by Seoul.

“I’d like to say once again that we have unchanging territorial control over Ieodo,” Kim Min-seok, a South Korean defense ministry spokesman, said on Monday.

Taiwan also claims the Japan-controlled disputed islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Taiwan said that it would “defend its sovereignty over the archipelago.”

China said the air defense zone came into effect from 10:00 local time on Saturday.

Aircraft in the zone must report a flight plan, “maintain two-way radio communications” and “respond in a timely and accurate manner” to identification inquiries, China’s Defense Ministry said.

Aircraft that did not follow such rules would be subject to “defensive emergency measures”, the ministry added.

The disputed islands in the East China Sea have been a source of tension between China and Japan for decades.

In 2012, the Japanese government bought three of the islands from their private Japanese owner, sparking mass protests in Chinese cities.

Since then, Chinese ships have repeatedly sailed in and out of what Japan says are its territorial waters.

China said that any attempt by Japan to shoot down Chinese aircraft would constitute “an act of war”.

China is also engaged in territorial disputes with several South East Asian countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines. The disputes centre around ocean areas and two island chains in the South China Sea.

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China starts running tourism cruises to Paracel Islands, a chain of disputed islands in the South China Sea by next month, state media reports.

Chinese news agency Xinhua said tourists would live on board ships, as the largest island has only one hotel and no fresh water.

The islands, known in China as Xisha but the Paracels elsewhere, are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

China has controlled Paracel Islands since a short war with South Vietnam in 1974.

In recent years tensions have been rising over the over-lapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, amid a more assertive stance from China.

The islands, known in China as Xisha but the Paracels elsewhere, are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan

The islands, known in China as Xisha but the Paracels elsewhere, are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan

Analysts view the latest move as another step in China’s battle to demonstrate that the potentially oil-rich area is Chinese.

Xinhua quoted the Haihang Group ship company as saying that a 47,000-tonne ship, capable of accommodating nearly 2,000 passengers, was ready to sail and that another was being built.

The first tours would take place ahead of the May Day holiday, said Tan Li, the executive vice governor of Hainan province, just north of the islands.

Tan Li said tourists would eat and sleep on the ship but visit land for sightseeing, Xinhua reports, and that the currently limited facilities would be improved by the addition of more ports and sanitation infrastructure.

China claims a U-shaped swathe of the sea that extends well into what UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) recognizes as the 200-mile-from-shore Exclusive Economic Zones of other claimants.

Last year, Beijing set up a local government office on the largest island, Yongxing – known in English as Woody Island – to oversee its territorial claims, a move which angered Vietnam.

And in March this year, Vietnam said China had fired on one of its fishing boats in the area, setting it alight.

China said the Vietnamese boats were illegally fishing in what it says is its territory when the incident occurred on March 20, and that it had fired flares not weapons.

Last year, the Philippines and China engaged in a lengthy stand-off over another disputed area, the Scarborough shoal, in a spat that left diplomatic ties very strained.

The South China Sea, seen to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves, has been a source of maritime conflict between several countries.

Vietnam has accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats in disputed waters in the South China Sea, setting it alight.

Vietnamese foreign ministry said the “very serious incident” took place on March 20 near the Paracel islands.

Its statement did not specify what kind of Chinese vessel was involved.

Vietnam and China both claim the Paracel islands, which have been controlled by China since a short war with South Vietnam in 1974.

“Vietnam strongly protests, urging China to investigate and seriously deal with the wrongful and inhumane act, and compensate Vietnamese fishermen for their loss,” foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said.

Vietnam has accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats in disputed waters in the South China Sea, setting it alight

Vietnam has accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats in disputed waters in the South China Sea, setting it alight

A formal complaint had been lodged with the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, the statement released late on Monday said.

Earlier this month, two Vietnamese fishing boats were chased out of disputed waters by Chinese marine surveillance ships, local reports said. Vietnamese officials have also reported increased patrolling by China in recent months.

But the use of firearms, if confirmed, points to a more forceful approach from Beijing in protecting what it calls China’s sovereign waters.

There has so far been no comment from Beijing on the issue.

In recent years tensions over territorial claims have been rising in the South China Sea, amid a more assertive stance from China.

China claims a U-shaped swathe of the sea that extends well into what UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) recognizes as the 200-mile-from-shore Exclusive Economic Zones of other claimants.

As well as Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims with China.

Last year, the Philippines and China engaged in a lengthy stand-off over another disputed area, the Scarborough shoal, in a spat that left diplomatic ties very strained.

Both the Philippines and Vietnam have sought to raise the issue through the ASEAN regional bloc, but claim Chinese pressure has forced the topic off the agenda.

Rare protests have taken place in Vietnam over maritime territorial disputes with neighboring China.

The protests in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi were quickly dispersed by police.

Tensions are high after an incident last month in which Hanoi accused Beijing of cutting the cables of a Vietnamese oil exploration ship.

Vietnam is also unhappy at a map in new Chinese passports that shows disputed areas of the South China Sea as Chinese territory.

Hundreds of people are reported to have taken part in the protests on Sunday morning against what they see as Chinese aggression and expansionism.

But the rallies were quickly stopped by the security police – after just 45 minutes in Ho Chi Minh City and half-an-hour in Hanoi.

Protesters said that Hanoi police had detained more than 20 activists.

It is the first anti-China protest in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city, in more than a year.

Rare protests have taken place in Vietnam over maritime territorial disputes with neighboring China

Rare protests have taken place in Vietnam over maritime territorial disputes with neighboring China

Public demonstrations are extremely rare in Vietnam, where the government makes social and political stability its top priority.

Police have been trying hard to prevent demonstrations, but this time it seems public anger was too great to suppress.

Tensions over maritime claims in the region have been rising.

Vietnam and the Philippines accuse China of growing assertiveness around disputed islands and shoals.

The Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) said Chinese fishing boats had sabotaged one of its oil survey vessels last month in the South China Sea.

Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan have also complained to China about the new passport map, saying it is an infringement of their sovereignty.

Vietnam and the Philippines are refusing to stamp the new Chinese passports and are instead issuing visas on separate sheets of paper.