Taiwan spots 4 Chinese weather balloons in airspace weeks ahead of crucial presidential elections, diplomatic tensions

Four Chinese balloons were spotted on a northeast trajectory between 8:27 a.m. and 6:41 p.m. on January 2, just a month after Taiwan began publicly tracking and disclosing such data

Livemint, Written By Jocelyn Fernandes
First Published3 Jan 2024
Lai Ching-te, Taiwan's vice president and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's presidential candidate has openly advocated for Taiwan's independence, He holds the lead as the frontrunner in the upcoming January 13 election.
Lai Ching-te, Taiwan’s vice president and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s presidential candidate has openly advocated for Taiwan’s independence, He holds the lead as the frontrunner in the upcoming January 13 election. (REUTERS/Ann Wang)

Taiwan spotted a series of unprecedented incursions by Chinese weather balloons this month as the island gears up for its upcoming presidential election, according to a Bloomberg report. The Defence Ministry in Taipei reported the sighting of four balloons on January 2, marking a significant breach as tensions escalate between Taiwan and Beijing.

Four Chinese balloons were spotted on a northeast trajectory between 8:27 a.m. and 6:41 p.m. on January 2, just a month after Taiwan began publicly disclosing such data, the report said. Notably, three of the balloons traversed the island, according to the ministry's statement.

Also Read | ‘Ties with China must be decided by will of people,’ Taiwan president says in response to Xi's reunification claims

Before these, a balloon flew over Taiwan on January 1, the first such sighting since the ministry started tracking in December.

An official graphic from the ministry displayed the path of three balloons moving northeast over Taiwan after their appearance southwest of Ching-Chuan-Kang, situated near a military airbase in Taichung's western city, as per an AFP report.

Reports indicate that one of the balloons registered the lowest altitude at 12,000 feet (3,658 metres) during its trajectory over the region.

Political Implications Amidst Poll Preparations

As Taiwan braces for its presidential election on January 13, these incursions have added fuel to the already heightened cross-strait tensions between China and Taiwan.

Also Read | China confronts a new political reality in Taiwan: No friends

Beijing continues to assert its claim over Taiwan, intensifying activities that include increased deployments of warplanes and naval vessels around the island. Experts refer to these tactics as "grey zone" strategies, aimed at intimidating Taiwan's military, as per the AFP report.

And after Xi Jinping reiterated the country's resolve for reunification, alluding to Taiwan, there is heavy emphasis on how the forthcoming election will shape the region's geopolitical landscape.

This recent breach echoes a similar incident from last year when a Chinese balloon encroached upon United States airspace, causing a rift between Beijing and Washington for several months. The Joe Biden administration had classified the aircraft as surveillance-oriented and downed it, while China maintained its stance, citing weather-related purposes.

Heightened Vigilance, Diplomatic Standoff

In response, the Defence Ministry in Taipei vowed to intensify surveillance and scrutiny of these incursions. It pledged thorough monitoring and analysis of the flying paths of these balloons to ascertain their purposes beyond weather-related activities. Measures are expected to be taken in line with any potential threats arising from such intrusions.

Also Read: Invading Taiwan would be a logistical minefield for China

President Tsai Ing-wen's government faces ongoing resistance from Beijing due to her refusal to acknowledge China's territorial claim over Taiwan. Beijing's refusal to engage with Tsai during her tenure underlines the diplomatic standoff between the two entities.

Deputy Lai Ching-te, who has openly advocated for Taiwan's independence, holds the lead as the frontrunner in the upcoming January 13 election. Beijing has labelled him a "troublemaker" and a "separatist" due to his stance on Taiwan's sovereignty.

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