Taiwan finds crashed weather balloon on remote island, likely Chinese

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s military said on Thursday it had found the remains of a probable crashed weather balloon likely from China on a remote and strategically located island near the Chinese coast, amid a dispute between China and the United States over spy balloons.

Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, has complained of increased harassment by Beijing’s armed forces over the past three years, including fighter jets flying near the island and drones buzzing close to offshore islets.

Taiwan’s army said that late Thursday morning its forces on Dongyin island, part of the Taiwan-controlled Matsu archipelago off the coast of China’s Fuzhou, observed an unknown object falling from the sky, then found the remnants of a balloon on a shooting range.

    The sphere is about 1 metre in diameter with an instrument box marked with simplified Chinese characters – which are used in China but not Taiwan – and the wording “Taiyuan Radio No. 1 Factory Co., Ltd.”, “GTS13 digital datmospheric sounding instrument” and “meteorological instrument”, the army said.

    Taiyuan is a major city in northern China. Reuters was not immediately able to locate contacts for the factory.

    “The preliminary investigation determined that the remains were of a meteorological detecting instrument, which have been collected by the relevant departments for further evaluation,” Taiwan’s army said in a short statement.

Speaking to reporters at parliament on Friday morning, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said the ministry has dispatched a team to investigate the crashed balloon.

“The national army … will not jump to conclusions just by looking at appearances. Answers will only be made after investigation,” he said.

    Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Tuesday it had not spotted any surveillance balloons from China in its vicinity, as a dispute between China and the United States over spy balloons triggers worries about rising military tensions.

    Dongyin sits at the top of the Taiwan Strait on an important passage for any southbound Chinese forces from the eastern province of Zhejiang if they attack Taiwan, and the island is well defended.

    Last year, Taiwan said a small, propeller-driven Chinese aircraft flew very close to Dongyin in what the government said they suspected was China deploying a civilian aircraft to test the responses of the Taiwanese military.

    China also deployed drones close to Taiwan-controlled islands near the Chinese coast last August when Beijing staged war games near Taiwan, which only ended after Taiwanese forces shot one down.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christopher Cushing)