Chinese balloons fly over Taiwan island near key air base

Taiwan’s defence ministry reported on Wednesday that three Chinese balloons crossed the island on Tuesday, the first such incident since it noticed a rise of them in the Taiwan Strait last month.

The Taiwanese defence ministry reported that on Tuesday, three balloons from China crossed the island of Taiwan and flew near a military air base. This was the first time the ministry had seen such balloons traversing the island since it began noticing a surge of them in the Taiwan Strait last month.

The use of balloons by China for espionage purposes became a matter of global concern in February 2023, when the United States claimed to have shot down a Chinese spy balloon. China denied the allegation and said the balloon was a civilian device that had gone off course.

Taiwan is on edge for any Chinese actions, both military and political, as it prepares for the presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 13. China considers the island as part of its own territory.

Since last month, the defence ministry of Taiwan has observed several cases of Chinese balloons flying over the Taiwan Strait, a sensitive area, and then entering the island’s northern airspace before disappearing.

On Wednesday, in its daily briefing for Chinese military activities in the last 24 hours, the ministry said it had spotted four balloons flying over the strait, of which three crossed the middle of the island.

The ministry said the three balloons travelled 105 nautical miles (194 km), 160 nautical miles and 159 nautical miles respectively to the southwest of Ching Chuan Kang, where a key Taiwan air force base is located.

The ministry added that the balloons vanished at different points, and that it had previously stated that they were likely for weather observation.

When asked if the latest balloons had any other purpose besides weather, the ministry did not give a specific answer.

It said it “keeps a close watch and responds appropriately” to the balloons and collects data about their trajectory for “evaluation and analysis”.

China has increased its military presence around Taiwan in the last four years and its warplanes and warships are now frequently seen in the strait.

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