Taipei rings alarm bells after China spy balloon spotted flying over Taiwan | World | News

Taipei rings alarm bells after China spy balloon spotted flying over Taiwan | World | News

Taiwan says it spotted a Chinese surveillance balloon in the Taiwan Strait along with a large-scale movement of military aircraft and ships.

The Defense Ministry said the balloon passed southwest of the port city of Keelung on Thursday night, then proceeded eastwards before disappearing.

There seemed to be some uncertainty about whether the balloon was operated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the military branch of China‘s ruling Communist Party.

The ministry referred to it both as a ”PLA surveillance balloon » and as “PRC’s balloon, » using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China, China’s official name.

A spokesperson for the Defense Ministry said they had no additional information.

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Taiwan is to elect a new president and the legislature next month, and the incident has sparked concerns about China potentially seeking to influence the outcome.

China’s Defense Ministry offered no comment, and Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said he was « not aware of the situation, and it is not a diplomatic question.”

Beijing has long blurred the lines between military and civilian functions, including in the South China Sea, where it operates a huge maritime militia.

Taipei has threatened to shoot down such balloons, but the ministry did not say what if any action was taken.

The ministry also said 26 Chinese military aircraft and 10 navy ships were detected in the 24 hours before 6 am Friday.

Fifteen of the aircraft crossed the median line that is an unofficial divider between the sides, but which Beijing refuses to recognise, it said.

Some also entered Taiwan’s self-declared air defence identification zone outside the island’s airspace, which encompasses the 160-kilometre-wide Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan’s military monitored the situation with combat aircraft, navy vessels and land-based missile systems, the ministry said.

Such incursions occur regularly as a means of advertising China’s threat to use force to annex the self-governing island republic it considers its own territory, wear down Taiwan’s military capabilities and impact morale among the armed forces.

The Chinese missions have also prompted Taiwan to increase its purchases of aircraft from the United States, its chief ally, and strengthen its own defence industry, including producing submarines.

Beijing strongly protests all official contacts between the US and Taiwan, but Taipei’s aggressive diplomacy has helped build strong bipartisan support for it on Capitol Hill.

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