Taiwan detects two Chinese balloons crossing north of island

Taiwan detected two Chinese weather balloons crossing the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Sunday, in the second such sighting within just a month.

The balloons flew across the median line delineating Taiwan and China on Sunday but stayed well to the north of Taiwan, the self-governed island's defence ministry said.

One balloon was spotted around 9am local time on Sunday, while the other was seen crossing the median line at 2.43pm local time, the ministry said in a social media post.

The balloons flew at an altitude of about 27,000 feet, headed east and disappeared at 9.36am and 4.35pm respectively.

Along with the balloons, six Chinese aircraft and two vessels were detected around Taiwan on Sunday morning.

"Armed Forces have monitored the situation and tasked CAP aircraft, Navy vessels, and land-based missile systems to respond these activities," the ministry added.

High-altitude balloons became a point of contention between the US and China in February after Washington shot down an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon, which Beijing said was a civilian craft that accidentally drifted astray.

The median line separating Taiwan from China, drawn by the US in 1954 during a period of heightened friction between Beijing and Taipei, has been repeatedly violated by the Chinese military in the recent years.

Beijing maintains that the self-governed island belongs to mainland China and has not ruled out the use of force to bring Taipei under its control.

Taiwan is on high alert for Chinese activities, both military and political, ahead of the 13 January presidential election. Taipei has warned of Beijing's efforts to interfere in the ballot and get voters to pick candidates China may prefer.

Previously on 7 December, the Taiwanese military said it detected a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon crossing the median line.

Defence minister Chiu Kuo-cheng then said that it might be a sounding or a weather balloon that had drifted towards Taiwan on monsoon winds and that it could be used for meteorological research and data.

Last week, China's Meteorological Administration urged weather officials to “effectively prevent major safety accidents” when launching balloons as they should have “zero tolerance” for any potential risks.

Canada’s defence ministry earlier this year said that a “high-altitude surveillance balloon” was detected and that it was monitoring a “potential second incident”.

In June, multiple images of what appeared to be spy balloons crossing Japan and Taiwan in east Asia since 2021 were released, months after China’s suspected spy balloon programme came to light.