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Three Chinese balloons fly over Taiwan island near major air base ahead of polls

AsiaThree Chinese balloons fly over Taiwan island near major air base ahead of polls

US intercepted a Chinese surveillance balloon last year, raising global concerns about China’s espionage use of such balloons.

Three Chinese balloons flew across Taiwan island on Tuesday and near an air base, the Taiwanese defence ministry said. This marks the first such reported incident since a string of similar balloon crossings began in the Taiwan Strait last month.

During the daily update about Chinese military activities within the last 24 hours, the ministry on Wednesday disclosed the detection of four balloons flying over the strait. Among them, three of these balloons flew across the island’s central area, charting paths of 105, 160 and 159 nautical miles southwest of Ching Chuan Kang, which is an important air force base in Taiwan.

The balloons then disappeared at various points, added the ministry, which has previously said it believed they were mostly for weather monitoring.

Global concerns about China potentially using balloons for espionage heightened in February 2023 when the United States claimed to have intercepted a Chinese surveillance balloon. China, however, maintained that the balloon was a civilian craft that had unintentionally veered off its intended path.

Taiwan remains on high alert for Chinese activities, encompassing both military maneuvers and political engagements, particularly in the lead-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for January 13. China asserts its claim over the island, considering it as part of its sovereign territory.

In recent weeks, Taiwan’s defense ministry has reported multiple instances of Chinese balloons traversing the sensitive Taiwan Strait and entering the island’s northern airspace before disappearing.

The ministry chose not to comment when asked whether the latest balloons were intended for weather monitoring or for other purposes. However, it emphasized that it closely monitors and responds appropriately to balloons, collecting information about their paths for evaluation and analysis.

In the last four years, China has intensified its military presence around Taiwan, with Chinese fighter jets and warships now frequently operating in the strait.

(Inputs from Reuters)

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