TAIPEI (Reuters) – A suspected Chinese weather balloon flew across the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Monday but stayed well north of Taiwan, the island’s defence ministry said on Tuesday, the third time this month Taipei has reported them nearby.
The potential for China to use balloons for spying became a global issue in February when the United States shot down what it said was a Chinese surveillance balloon. China said the balloon was a civilian craft that accidentally drifted astray.
Taiwan is on high alert for Chinese activities, both military and political, ahead of Jan. 13 presidential and parliamentary elections. Taipei has warned of Beijing’s efforts to interfere in the ballot to get voters to pick candidates China may prefer.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said the single balloon was detected at 9:09 a.m. (0109GMT) after crossing the strait’s median line 67 nautical miles (124 km) northwest of the northern Taiwanese port city of Keelung.
The balloon flew at an altitude of about 15,000 feet (4,572 metres), headed east and disappeared at 11:52 a.m, the ministry added.
The ministry said its initial judgement is that it was a weather balloon.
Taiwan has reported two other incidents of suspected Chinese weather balloons crossing the strait this month.
Taiwan’s defence minister has said the ministry was announcing the detection of such balloons in the interest of transparency.
China, which views Taiwan as its own territory, has increased its military pressure against the island over the past four years as Beijing seeks to press its sovereignty claims.
Chinese warplanes and warships now regularly operate around Taiwan, which has denounced China’s activities.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Gerry Doyle)