Taiwan has repeatedly reported balloons flying near or over the island recently. The authorities are on high alert in preparation for the January 13 elections. The outcome of that election could have serious consequences for the relationship with authoritarian China.
Relations between China and Taiwan deteriorated after the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. Beijing considers her separatist. China considers democratically-ruled Taiwan its territory, even though the island was never part of the People's Republic of China. It also regularly sends fighter planes to the island.
The Taiwanese ministry said the balloons showed “a disregard for aviation safety and the safety of passengers on international flights and across the Taiwan Strait.”
It is unclear what the function of the balloons is. Initially, Taiwan's Ministry of Defense thought it was the weather balloons that had been blown away by the wind. But since the end of this week there has been a different reading.
Balloons can also be used for spying. According to the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense, some balloons were spotted near major air bases this week. The United States shot down a balloon from China last year that the Americans said could be used to collect intelligence. Then China said the weather balloon went off course.
China has not yet responded to the recent explicit criticism from Taiwan. Earlier, Chinese official media accused Taiwan's ruling party and the Taiwanese and American media of exaggerating “harmless weather balloon” incidents. China considered the accusations leveled by Taiwan to be a “dirty trick” to enhance the chances of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party during the elections.
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