Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says a Chinese weather balloon landed on one of its outlying islands, amid US accusations that such a craft has been dispatched worldwide to spy on Washington and its allies.
The ministry’s statement Thursday said the balloon carried equipment registered to a state-owned electronics company in the northern city of Taiyuan.
The islet where it was found, Tungyin, is part of the Matsu island group lying just off the coast of China’s southern Fujian province.
Taiwan maintained control of the islands after the 1949 Communist takeover of the mainland, and they are considered the first line of defense should China make good on its threats to bring Taiwan under its control by force.
Reached by phone, a publicity officer at the electronics company, which was identified in the report as Taiyuan Wireless (Radio) First Factory Ltd., said it had provided electronics but had not built the balloon.
The spokesperson, who gave only his surname, Liu, said Taiyuan was among a number of companies that provided equipment to the China Meteorological Administration.
The balloon was likely among those launched daily to monitor weather and was probably launched from the coastal city of Xiamen with no fixed course, he said.
Its deflation was probably a natural outcome of it having reached a maximum altitude of almost 100,000 feet, Liu said. Such balloons regularly fly over the Taiwan Strait but have only recently begun to draw attention, he said.
Information on the equipment was written in the simplified Chinese characters used on the mainland rather than the traditional characters used in Taiwan, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said.
China regularly sends military aircraft and warships into Taiwan’s air-identification zone and across the middle line of the Taiwan Strait. That has prompted Taiwan to increase military purchases from the US, expand domestic production of local planes, submarines and fighting ships, and extend compulsory military service for all males.
The US is Taiwan’s closest military and diplomatic ally, despite a lack of formal ties, which were cut in 1979. Beijing protests strongly over all contacts between the island and the US, but its aggressive diplomacy has helped build strong bipartisan support for Taipei on Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, President Biden said the US is developing “sharper rules” to track, monitor and potentially shoot down unknown aerial objects, following three weeks of high-stakes drama sparked by the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon transiting over much of the country .
Biden has directed national security advisor Jake Sullivan to lead an inter-agency team to review US procedures after the American military shot down the Chinese balloon, as well as three other objects that Biden said the US now believes were most likely “benign” objects launched by private companies or research institutions.
While not expressing regret for downing the three still-unidentified objects, Biden said he hoped the new rules would help “distinguish between those who are likely to pose safety and security risks that need action and those that do not.”