TAIPEI (Reuters) -Three Chinese balloons flew across Taiwan island on Tuesday and near an air base, the Taiwanese defence ministry said, the first time it has reported them crossing the island since reporting a spate of such balloons in the Taiwan Strait starting last month.
The potential for China to use balloons for spying became a global issue in February 2023 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. China claims the island as its own territory.
Taiwan’s defence ministry has since last month reported several instances of Chinese balloons flying over the sensitive Taiwan Strait, then crossing airspace to the island’s north before vanishing.
On Wednesday, giving its daily update for Chinese military activities over the past 24 hours, the ministry said it had detected four balloons flying over the strait, three of which flew across the centre of the island.
It said the three flew 105 nautical miles (194 km), 160 nautical miles and 159 nautical miles respectively to the southwest of Ching Chuan Kang, the location of an important Taiwan air force base.
The balloons then disappeared at various points, added the ministry, which has previously said it believed they were mostly for weather monitoring.
Asked whether the latest balloons were for weather or other purposes, the ministry declined to comment specifically.
It “closely monitors and appropriately responds” to balloons and gathers information about their path for “judgement and analysis,” the ministry said.
Over the past four years China has stepped up military activity around Taiwan and Chinese fighter jets and warships now regularly operate in the strait.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Jamie Freed)