China celebrates the Year of the Dragon sending messages to Taiwan
Beijing intensified its military activities during the Lunar New Year. Balloons floated over the Taiwan Strait for two consecutive days. For experts, it is a warning, part of the mainland’s psychological warfare against the rebel island. For the first time, armed soldiers performed at the national Spring Festival gala.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – While ordinary Chinese are on vacation, free to travel after years of COVID-19 restrictions, Beijing chose to "celebrate" the Lunar New Year, which marks the start of the Year of the Dragon, by sending balloons over the skies of Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Defence Ministry reported repeated sightings in the Taiwan Strait and the island over the weekend.
Over two consecutive days, at least eight Chinese spy balloons were spotted over the strait and at least five floated over the island yesterday. More were spotted the day before, a sign of intensified military activities during the holiday period.
Taiwanese authorities have also intercepted Chinese military planes and unmanned aircraft, as well as battleships near its territorial waters.
In recent years, China has deployed warplanes and drones on a nearly daily basis, even during the current holiday period, while China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to media queries about military activities in the strait.
China began sending balloons over the Taiwan Strait in December, a month before Taiwan's presidential election. From the few that were spotted initially, their numbers surged recently, with some flying near military bases.
Analysts believe that this is an indirect warning to the autonomy-minded "rebel" island. For Taiwan, balloons pose an added threat to its airspace safety.
Balloon overflights are part of China's so-called "grey zone" used to threaten Taiwan without direct military confrontation.
Since the victory of the pro-independence candidate Lai Ching-te in the presidential elections last January, China's military flights have intensified and balloon sightings have increased.
In January, as many as 33 Chinese fighter jets were spotted flying twice over the median line of the Taiwan Strait, the border tacitly agreed upon during the Cold War even if Beijing does not officially recognise it.
As for balloons, China has always responded to criticism by saying that they are used for meteorological purposes with no military function; however, while balloons can collect data atmospheric data, experts fear that they can complement satellites and radars in intelligence gathering.
In February 2023, a Chinese balloon that floated into US airspace sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Pictures show the craft equipped with solar panels and electrical devices.
A “balloon war” followed with US President Joe Biden ordering it be shot down. For Washington, the craft was a spy balloon sent to gather information on US military bases in the Pacific. In its response, China claimed that the weather balloon was only for research purposes.
Finally, China’s state television CCTV broadcast the recent Spring Festival Gala showing armed People’s Liberation Army soldiers performing a military song on stage.
This is the first time that armed soldiers from a combat unit stationed in the capital are shown goose stepping on stage during the annual event against a background screen showing military exercises, with an aircraft carrier, the latest fighter jets, missile launches, and the landing of troops on a beach.
For analysts this is another warning against Taiwan, the rebel island. In the past, only military art troupes and honour guards participated in performance.