Multiple Chinese Surveillance Balloons Spotted Near Taiwan, Sparking Aviation Safety Concerns
Over the past week, Taiwan has detected multiple high-altitude surveillance balloons from China approaching or entering its airspace.
On January 3rd, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense announced that four Chinese balloons had been tracked near Kinmen and Matsu Islands. Two days later, another Chinese balloon was spotted northeast of Taiwan’s airspace near Yilan county.
Officials believe these balloons are being used for surveillance and intelligence gathering by the Chinese military in the run-up to Taiwan’s presidential election on January 11th.
Taiwan has strongly condemned China’s use of surveillance balloons, calling them a “threat to regional peace and stability”. The recent increased incursions have raised aviation safety concerns, with Taiwan’s Transportation Ministry warning of potential flight disruptions.
|Number of Balloons
|Kinmen, Matsu Islands
There are worries these balloons could accidentally wander into commercial airspaces and pose a collision hazard to civilian air traffic. China’s Foreign Ministry has defended the balloons as conducting meteorological research, although Taiwan maintains they are clearly military surveillance craft.
Emergency Missile Alert Falsely Triggered in Taiwan After Chinese Satellite Launch
On January 9th, an emergency text message was mistakenly sent to millions of phones in Taiwan, warning residents to seek shelter from an incoming missile attack.
The message turned out to be incorrectly translated software error, triggered by China’s launch of a Long March 2D rocket to deliver a satellite into orbit.
Taiwan’s military tracked the Chinese rocket flying over the south of Taiwan from a launch center in Xichang, in southwestern China. While the satellite did briefly pass through Taiwan’s airspace, there was no threat of an actual attack.
Within 30 minutes of the initial alert, Taiwan authorities had sent a correction, clarifying it was a false alarm. Taiwan Premier Chen Chien-jen issued a public apology, citing the inaccurate translation of the satellite notification.
The false emergency alert has highlighted lingering unease in Taiwan over the potential for military conflict, as China ramps up pressure on the self-governing island it claims as its own territory.
China Seen Using “Gray Zone” Tactics to Undermine Taiwan President Election
With Taiwan’s presidential election just days away, regional security analysts see China deliberately intensifying its military activities to intimidate voters and impact the island’s political process.
Descriptions of Chinese actions include “coercion”, “intimidation” and “harassment” intended to psychologically influence Taiwan’s leadership and populace ahead of a pivotal election. China’s recent provocations like the surveillance balloons and fighter jets breaching Taiwan’s airspace are viewed as “gray zone” tactics to meddle in Taiwan’s democracy.
“China is subtly increasing military pressure on Taiwan as a presidential election draws near on the self-governing island…The idea is to remind Taiwan’s people that China can make life very uncomfortable if they don’t make politically acceptable choices” – OPB News
There is widespread expert consensus that China’s goal remains reunification with Taiwan, by force if necessary. In a further sign of tensions, Taiwan has increased its domestic defense spending by 15% in 2023.
With Chinese military aircraft crossing into Taiwan’s airspace zone over 700 times last year, most observers foresee increased brinkmanship even after Taiwan’s leadership election concludes. Attempts to peacefully resolve cross-strait differences appear increasingly remote amidst China’s ongoing economic, diplomatic and military pressure campaign.
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