Controversial Chinese satellite flyover sparks political tensions in Taiwan amid election preparations

The government issued an incorrect air raid warning on Tuesday after a Chinese rocket carrying a science satellite flew over southern Taiwan at an altitude of more than 500 kilometres (310 miles). The defence ministry later apologized for using the word “missile” in the incorrect English translation.

Amidst the controversy that stirred a political uproar on the island, the presidential office of Taiwan clarified that it does not perceive the launch of a Chinese satellite, which saw its rocket passing over southern Taiwan, as an attempt to interfere in the upcoming presidential election scheduled for Saturday.

The government issued an incorrect air raid warning on Tuesday after a Chinese rocket carrying a science satellite flew over southern Taiwan at an altitude of more than 500 kilometres (310 miles). The defence ministry later apologized for using the word “missile” in the incorrect English translation.

In response to questions about whether the satellite launch constituted election interference, Taiwan’s presidential office stated that it did not believe there was a political motive.

“Political attempts can be ruled out after the national security team has analyzed the overall relevant information and taken into account the evaluation of various international allies’ information,” it said in a statement issued shortly before midnight on Tuesday.

While the rocket launch triggered an incorrect air raid alarm, Taiwan, which China considers its territory despite strong opposition from the Taipei government, has repeatedly accused Beijing of attempting to influence the vote through military, political, economic, or other means. These allegations have been labelled “dirty tricks” by China.

In a written response to Reuters on Wednesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office stated that the satellite launch was a regular annual event that had “nothing to do with the Taiwan election.”

In early December, China launched two satellites from a launch site in Inner Mongolia on consecutive days. Neither had flown over Taiwan or raised an alert.

The shrill alert sounded on phones in the room while Taiwan’s foreign minister was speaking to foreign reporters, with the words “satellite launch by China” in Chinese and “missile” in English.

He described the launch as part of a pattern of Chinese harassment, similar to the recent sightings of Chinese balloons over the island.

The Kuomintang (KMT), Taiwan’s largest opposition party, slammed the government, saying the satellite launch alert “should not become an election tool.”

“It’s similar to how the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) recently described everything as Chinese election meddling.” “This is yet another new instance of alleged Chinese election meddling,” he said.

The alert, according to Vincent Chao, spokesperson for Vice President Lai Ching-te, the ruling DPP’s presidential candidate, is critical for keeping citizens informed and reassured.

“A democratic and free society should have an open and transparent defence ministry,” Chao said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Our national issues, especially national security, should not become a political tool.”

Taiwan’s defence ministry stated in a statement that the warning was issued for national security reasons and that there was “absolutely no political interference” involved.

“This is yet another new move of so-called Chinese election interference,” Chu said, highlighting the long-standing narrative of Chinese meddling in Taiwanese domestic affairs. He called for a thorough investigation into the events surrounding the alert, emphasizing the importance of transparency.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), on the other hand, defended the alert as necessary for keeping citizens informed and reassured. During a press conference on Wednesday, Vincent Chao, spokesperson for Vice President Lai Ching-te, the DPP’s presidential candidate, stated that national security should not be used as a political tool and emphasized the importance of an open and transparent defence ministry in a democratic society.

The Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), led by former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je, also stated in response to the incident. Ko, who is running for president, expressed concern about the lack of a basic dialogue mechanism between Taiwan and China.