Taiwan’s air raid alarm on satellite causes pre-election anxiety
Taiwan issued an air raid alert over a Chinese satellite launch, an event that caused some anxiety days before a pivotal presidential election.
The Defense Ministry in Taipei sent out the warning, accompanied by a shrill alarm ringing across the island, to mobile phones around 3 p.m. Tuesday. It cautioned the public about possible debris tumbling from the sky.
“If any unidentified objects are found, please report that to the police and fire department,” it said.
While China’s satellite launches have traveled high above Taiwan in the past, the latest episode raises concern it could be part of Beijing’s efforts to bully the island’s voters just days before Saturday’s election. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen warned in November that the democracy of some 23 million people faces “mounting military intimidation, gray-zone campaigns, cyber attacks and information manipulation” from China.
Taiwan’s national security officials determined there was no political motive behind China’s decision to launch a satellite just a few days before the election, the Presidential Office in Taipei said in a statement late Tuesday.
Beijing has refused to hold talks with Tsai during her nearly eight years in power because she doesn’t acknowledge Taiwan is a part of China. It’s also held major military drills around the island it claims as part of its territory twice since August 2022 because Tsai met top U.S. lawmakers.
And it’s ratcheted up economic and diplomatic pressure on her government, for example by convincing nations to switch official recognition to Beijing.
Last week, China sent a flurry of weather balloons over Taiwan. The Taiwanese military would take countermeasures if the aircraft pose a serious danger to lives and property, Defense Ministry spokesperson Sun Li-fang said, the semi-official Central News Agency reported Tuesday.
Sun didn’t say exactly what moves the island could take but in 2022 its military started downing drones that approached its offshore islands.
The alert on Tuesday came as Chinese state media said a Long March 2C rocket carrying a satellite was sent up from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern province of Sichuan.
“The satellite successfully entered its predetermined orbit, and the launch mission was a complete success,” the state broadcaster said.
The English text in Taiwan’s alert called the object that traveled over the island “a missile,” phrasing that added to the initial anxiety. The Defense Ministry in Taipei later apologized for the “imprecise” choice of words.
The island will choose its next leader on Saturday as Tsai steps down due to term limits.
The vote will determine the direction of cross-strait ties for years. If the ruling DPP wins, the U.S. would retain a willing partner in its efforts to push back against China, straining ties with President Xi Jinping’s government. A victory by one of the challengers could de-escalate tensions with Beijing.
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