China satellite launch causes pre-election political storm in Taiwan


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China satellite launch causes pre-election political storm in Taiwan

SATELLITE LAUNCH. A Long March-2C carrier rocket carrying a satellite called Einstein Probe takes off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, China January 9, 2024.

cnsphoto via Reuters

Taiwan's largest opposition party the Kuomintang, slams the government, saying the alert issued over the satellite launch 'should not become an election tool'

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan’s presidential office said it did not consider the launch of a Chinese satellite whose rocket flew over southern Taiwan an attempt at interference ahead of a presidential election on Saturday, January 13, as the issue sparked a political storm on the island.

On Tuesday the government issued a mistaken air raid alert after the Chinese rocket carrying a science satellite flew over southern Taiwan at an altitude of more than 500 km (310 miles). The defense ministry later apologized for the wrong translation in English which used the word “missile.”

Taiwan’s presidential office, responding to questions on whether it considered the satellite launch election interference, said it did not think there was a political motive.

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

While the rocket launch sparked an erroneous air raid alarm, Taiwan, which China views as its territory over the strong objections of the government in Taipei, has repeatedly accused Beijing of trying to interfere in the vote, whether via military, political, economic or other means. China has labelled those allegations “dirty tricks”.

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

He had described the launch as part of a pattern of Chinese harassment, like the recent cases of Chinese balloons spotted over the island.

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

KMT Chairman Eric Chu told reporters on Wednesday that people are most concerned about whether the alert was mistakenly sent or if those sending it had a particular goal in mind.

“This is like how the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has recently described everything as Chinese election interference. This is another new move of so-called Chinese election interference,” he said.

Vincent Chao, spokesperson for Vice President Lai Ching-te, the ruling DPP’s presidential candidate, defended the alert as crucial for keeping citizens informed and reassured.

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

Taiwan’s defense ministry late on Tuesday said that the rocket debris had fallen only on China, and that the rocket had taken an “abnormal” flight path.

“The alert messaging is based on national security considerations and is processed in a professional manner by a delegated authority. It is not affected by or subject to any party politics,” it said in a statement.

A Taiwan security source familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the subject, said China regularly launches satellites close to but not over Taiwan, so alerts are not needed given falling debris is not a concern.

“The path was different from what was originally expected, and its actual route was over us. The fear was something falling off, so the alert was issued,” the source said.

Former Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je of the small Taiwan People’s Party (TPP), who is also standing for the presidency, wrote on his Facebook page that the biggest fear in cross-strait relations is a conflict could be sparked accidentally.

“Today’s misunderstanding confirms that the two sides lack the most basic dialogue mechanism, which may lead to inaccurate judgments at important moments and the eruption of crisis,” Ko wrote.

Both the TPP and KMT have pledged to restart dialogue with China if they win the presidency. – Rappler.com

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