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Taiwan airspace

China satellite launch prompts Taiwan alert ahead of pivotal vote

China satellite launch prompts Taiwan alert ahead of pivotal vote
A lost in translation emergency alert pop-up on a mobile phone is seen during the press conference of Taiwan's foreign minister Joseph Wu, in Taipei, Taiwan, 09 January 2024. Wu spoke about intelligence reports about China's alleged intervention in the upcoming Taiwan election. The message on screen reads: 'Presidential Alert - (Air Defense Alert) China launched a satellite at 15:04 and has flown over southern Taiwan. Please pay attention to safety. If an unknown object is found, call the police to deal with it'. Taiwan's presidential election is scheduled to be held on 13 January 2024. EPA-EFE/RITCHIE B. TONGO

TAIPEI/BEIJING, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Taiwan's government issued an island-wide alert on Tuesday, saying a Chinese satellite had flown over its southern airspace, which Taiwan's foreign minister described as part of a pattern of harassment days before a pivotal election.

The security alert was sent by the defence ministry to mobile phone users in Taiwan after 3 p.m. (0700 GMT), around the same time Chinese state media confirmed the launch of a science satellite.

The “presidential alert” described the projectile as a “satellite” in Chinese, and a “missile” in English.

The defence ministry later blamed “negligence” for the mistaken reference to a missile. It also said the rocket had passed at high altitude over Taiwan airspace.

Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday. Beijing claims Taiwan as its own territory and has cast the elections as a choice between peace and war across the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan’s government rejects China’s sovereignty assertions.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said China had launched “a new astronomical satellite” called the Einstein Probe from the southwestern province of Sichuan.

China had not previously announced the satellite launch and did not offer any details on its flight plan. China made two satellite launches on consecutive days in early December from a launch site in Inner Mongolia. Neither of those had flown over Taiwan or triggered an alert.

China’s state media described the probe as a small satellite dedicated to high-energy astrophysics and astronomy.

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu who was giving a press conference to dozens of foreign reporters as the shrill alert sounded, described the launch as part of a pattern of harassment towards Taiwan, just like the recent cases of Chinese balloons spotted over the island.

“All these kinds of tactics are classified as grey-zone activities, (and) continue to remind the people here in Taiwan that there is a danger of war between Taiwan and China,” he told reporters.

“With these kinds of threats against Taiwan I think we should be clear eyed, we should not be provoked.”

China’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who was at a campaign event in the southern city of Kaohsiung, looked at a mobile phone and said “this is a satellite, not a missile – don’t worry,” the official Central News Agency reported.

But Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang Party criticised the alert, saying it had misled the public.

Taiwan accused China on Saturday of threatening aviation safety and waging psychological warfare on its people with the recent spate of balloons.

Taiwan has complained for four years of stepped-up Chinese military action such as fighter jets regularly flying over the strait as part of a “grey zone” strategy attempting to wear down Taiwan with offensive actions that stop short of full-blown conflict.

(Additional reporting by James Pomfret and Sarah Wu, Beijing newsroom; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Ed Osmond and Kim Coghill)

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