Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense said a Chinese military surveillance balloon was seen in the Taiwan Strait, as were large-scale movements of military aircraft and ships.
The ministry said the balloon passed southwest of the northern port city of Keelung on Thursday evening, and continued moving east before disappearing, possibly into the Pacific Ocean.
However, there still appears to be uncertainty over whether the balloon was operated directly by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the military arm of China’s ruling Communist Party. Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense referred to the balloon as a “PLA reconnaissance balloon” and as “PRC balloon 1.” PRC is an abbreviation of China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.
A Defense Ministry spokesperson said they had no additional information.
The remains of a large balloon hover over the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the coast of South Carolina, a fighter jet and its tracks are visible below, February 4, 2023. (Photo: via AP)
China has long blurred the lines between military and civilian functions, including in the South China Sea, where it operates a vast maritime militia – apparently civilian fishing vessels acting on government orders to assert Beijing’s territorial claims.
Taiwan has threatened to shoot down such balloons, but Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has not said what, if any, action is being taken. It was also said that the balloon was monitored flying at an altitude of around 6,400 meters.
The ministry also said it had detected 26 Chinese military aircraft, along with 10 Chinese Navy ships, in the 24 hours before 6 a.m. Friday. As for the planes, 15 of them had crossed the median line that is an unofficial barrier between the two sides, which Beijing refuses to recognize. Some of the planes also entered Taiwan’s self-designated air defense identification zone outside the island’s airspace, which covers the 160-kilometre-wide Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan’s military is monitoring the situation with warplanes, naval ships and land-based missile systems, Taiwan’s defense ministry said. The incident occurred just a month before Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections, and it raises questions about possible Chinese efforts to influence the election.
Such attacks often occur as a way to demonstrate China’s threat to use force to annex the self-ruled island it considers its territory. This weakens Taiwan’s military capabilities and affects the morale of both the armed forces and the public, which remains ambivalent about China’s actions.
China’s mission also encourages Taiwan to increase aircraft purchases from the US, its main ally, and revitalize its defense industry, including producing submarines.
Beijing strongly protests all contact between Taiwan and the US, but its aggressive diplomacy has fostered strong bipartisan support for Taipei in the US Congress. (uh/ab)